Millions of practicing Muslims around the world partake in their intense Holy Fasting practice during the month of Ramadan.
During this time period, they do not EAT or DRINK from sunrise to sunset. Depending on where they’re living, this fasting period can range from 11 to 18 hours. Although intermittent fasting (IF) has become a popular dieting strategy, this holy fasting is much different because of the dehydration that occurs since they’re not drinking any fluids.
Every year I get tons of messages from those asking for tips on how they should approach their nutrition and training during this time period. Some of my clients are practicing muslims and they alter their schedule and make drastic changes to ensure they’re progressing towards their goals.
Now if your goal is fat loss, this holy fasting period can potentially help you progress since it’s difficult to eat in a calorie surplus with such a short feeding window. However, the real challenge is in preserving muscle for those ‘cutting’, and building muscle for those ‘bulking’. Regardless of your goal, if you want to ensure you continue to progress, tracking your calories and macronutrients is going to be a fail proof method to success during this time period.
The biggest piece to the puzzle is going to be when you should train. For those with limited flexibility due to work or other responsibilities, getting progressive training sessions can be very difficult during this time period.
Whatever you do, DO NOT train during the fasted state where you can not properly hydrate and fuel your body.
Training in a dehydrated state significantly increases your injury risk and decreases your performance! Your body’s ability to efficiently contract muscle on the cellular level is going to be inhibited. That will lead to a decrease in strength and endurance. You’ll be forced to train with lighter loads and your total training volume will take a significant hit. Overall, the training session won’t be productive!
Weight training itself is very catabolic in nature, so if you can not replenish yourself after the training session, you’re going to significantly reduce your bodies ability to recover and grow.
So when is the BEST time to train during Ramadan?
My suggestion would be to train after breaking the fast in the evening! Once the sun sets and you can break the fast, I suggest you drink at least 32oz of water before you eat anything. Thereafter, you’ll be best off consuming foods that are very easy to digest, low in ‘volume’, not really fibrous and something that’ll provide your body with fuel quickly.
If Meal #1 is going to be your pre-workout meal, I would suggest the following:
Cream of Rice or Rice Crisp Cereal – This carbohydrate source is extremely easy to digest, hypoallergenic, and can be utilized for energy pretty fast!
I would combined this starchy carbohydrate source with a serving of fruit as well.
Something like bananas or raisins will provide you with fructose, a simple carbohydrate that has a different transport mechanism than glucose. This is important because studies have shown that ingesting ‘multiple transportable carbs’ allows you to tolerate a larger total amount of carbohydrate in one sitting! This leads to efficient digestion, absorption and utilization of the carbohydrates your consuming. These fruit sources mentioned above also provide a good amount of potassium, an essential mineral that helps with cellular hydration!
For a protein source, your best option will be whey protein here. It will maximize the anabolic response and stimulate muscle protein synthesis to the greatest degree! At the same time, it’s digested very quickly and won’t cause any stomach distress.
A meal like this will need no longer than 60 minutes to digest. Enjoy this well, get ready for the gym, and continue to hydrate up so you can have a progressive training session.
If you’re in a calorie surplus and trying to build muscle during the holy month, I suggest you supplement with intra workout carbohydrates. It’s going to be difficult to get in a ton of calories with the short feeding window, so utilizing intra workout carbs is a great option to fuel your performance and help you reach your caloric needs. Anywhere from 15-30g of carbs is a good place to start.
Post-workout, you can consume some whey protein again in the gym to help you reach your daily protein needs and get the recovery process started. After that, I would suggest you have a whole food, nutrient dense meal.
Consuming 4 full meals with potentially 1 additional protein feeding via whey protein seems to be the best approach to take!
*Distribute your protein relatively evenly across the meals but have a slightly larger protein feeding with meal 4 to keep you fuller for longer and prevent catabolism*
I.e. Daily Protein Goal: 170g
- Meal 1: 30g Pro
- Post Workout Whey: 25g Pro
- Meal 2: 30g Pro
- Meal 3: 30g Pro
- Meal 4: 55g Pro
Total: 170g Protein
Consuming slower digesting whole foods for your final meal before starting the fast is going to be key not just for satiety, but also to keep you from losing muscle. Fat and protein are the most satiating macronutrients, so make sure you get a large amount of your fats in this meal!
I would suggest having a lot of whole eggs, steak, potatoes (home fries, hash browns, etc), green vegetable of choice, fruit and greek yogurt for this final meal.
Whole eggs and steak are high in fat and protein that will take a long time to digest and breakdown. This will cause a slow release of amino acids into your bloodstream and prevent you from going ‘catabolic’ for a long period of time. Moreover, greek yogurt is primarily casein protein which is a very large protein peptide which leads to a slow release of amino acids into the bloodstream.
Different Digestion Rates of Protein:
Potatoes are the most satiating carbohydrate source you can consume and provide you with essential vitamins and minerals as well as some fiber. Pair this with more fiber from a green vegetable and you will feel full for hours!
Timing your meals is going to be important during the holy month, but being conscious about the food sources you’re consuming each meal can really help you progress during this challenging time. If you’re deliberate about the foods you’re going to consume, you will have better performance in the gym, minimize any stomach distress and also keep you fuller during the fasting period.
Ramadan isn’t going to be easy for anyone but if you take the right steps, you can stay on track of your goals.