In a little over one month, Muslims will be entering the month of Ramadan. This month consists of 29 or 30 days of fasting, abstaining from food, water, and any supplements from before sunrise through the day until sunset. This is often anticipated to be a very difficult month for Muslims who are into fitness / exercise and wellness, as we all know how important nutrition is. While states and countries differ because of their timezones and when the sun sets, a day of fasting could range anywhere from twelve to twenty hours long. In Arizona, it’s from 4:06AM to 7:25PM, (with minute changes through the month) just over seventeen hours of abstaining from food and water. After the day of fasting ends, Muslims break their fast, often with their families and friends, and then head to a congregational (and optional) prayer not too long after their dinner. This prayer is a part of what makes the month trying, because non-24-hour gyms are closed by the time the prayer ends. Also, fasting isn’t easy, and this makes the diet a little harder to follow. You don't want to follow any dietary rules when you're finally allowed to feast.
This month brings up so many questions and I’ll be answering these one by one, and providing my personal advice through this post.
Five of your most popular questions pertaining to fitness in Ramadan, and five answers: Let’s do it.
1.) Should I still work out in Ramadan?
Absolutely. Missing out on 30 days of the gym is not only going to take you back 30 days, but also the two weeks that it’ll probably take you to bring yourself back to your pre-Ramadan progress. Yes, you should still work out, and the continuation of this answer will be included in the answers of the other questions. Just remember that you’re a Muslim far before you’re a fitness fanatic, so don’t lose sight of what this month is all about: connecting with your spiritual progress, spending time with friends and family, and becoming a better person inside and out. Stay healthy and still go to the gym if you can, and you’ll likely very much enjoy this month. But remember: three or four workout sessions per week is plenty, and is the perfect way to meet in the middle, rather than making a drastic sacrifice or compromise every single day.
2.) When should I work out?
There's a lot of options here.
Your first option is to go to the gym one hour before sunset, and to hit a not-overly-intense workout in that hour. Right when you’re done, if you time it correctly, you will be permitted to drink water and have your post-workout dinner. This only works if fasting is relatively easy for you, and the last hour isn’t the “torture” that it is for many other people. If indeed the last hour of fasting is the hardest for you, this option is NOT for you, so avoid it. You don’t want to cause any damages to your body via dehydration or nausea, so know your body and see, maybe in the first day of Ramadan, if you’re able to do this.
Your second option is to skip the optional prayer after dinner and go about an hour or two after breaking your fast. This doesn't need to be a daily thing; hitting the gym three times a week would suffice, especially for a short-term time like Ramadan. This will ensure that you have the energy required for your workout and also gives you time to digest all the food you probably feasted on. The prayer after dinner, known as Taraweeh, is optional, but is a great time to meet new community members and feel united with the fellow Muslims in your area. This is my least recommended option because fitness should not take away from what we look forward to most as Muslims, since the unity that occurs in Ramadan unfortunately does not occur outside of that month to that extent. However, with only needing to hit the gym three times a week or so, this could be a feasible option for many people, especially those who might not be able to make the entire prayer due to work schedules anyways.
Your third option, and probably my most recommended option, would be to buy a 30 day pass to a 24-hour gym in your area, and go after Taraweeh (or I guess before the fasting begins, around 3am). This is up to you, your financial capability, your work schedule, and you much you value the fitness aspect of this month. Some gyms will negotiate with you if you explain that you only want the membership for those 30 days, and refuse to pay a sign-up fee, and continue to haggle your way to a reasonable price. Before scoffing at high prices, remember to value each day. If a month costs 40 dollars, don’t think of it as 40 dollars a month, because you won’t be there for more than that one month. Think of it as just over a dollar a day to get a great workout. And that’s worth it if you ask me!
Your fourth option is to break your fast right when the sun sets with something small. Maybe a piece of fruit and a bit of protein, with lots of water to get hydrated. Then head to the gym for a quick workout. This would be a time where I recommend BCAA supplementation for extra protein and energy, but it’s not required. When you’re done with your quick workout, come back and eat your full meal, then head to Taraweeh. This allows you to work out before prayer when your gym is open, get some energy before the workout, and also removes the risk of dehydration. You also get to go to Taraweeh, so this is definitely one of the best options.
Your fifth and final option is to work out at home at your own leisure. Your workouts will not be as good as they would be at the gym, unless you’re accustomed to home workouts, or if you have gym equipment at your house. In which case, this is your best option since you do it anyways. If your goal is to lose weight, this could be good, because you can just follow some sort of cardio workout at home. If you’re trying to add muscle (which I’ll talk about in a bit), this will be far more difficult if you don’t have any equipment, because your bodyweight can only get you so far. But hey, for 30 days, it’ll do.
3.) Am I going to lose all my gains?
No. Keep your protein high, your workouts intense, and stay consistent. Your gains will be fine, your strength and size will more than likely go down, or stay neutral. Increasing size and strength is very difficult and should not be your goal for these thirty days. You won’t have a lot of time to eat and get the correct nutrients, especially if you’re not the one in control of the dinners you’ll be eating. Being invited to peoples’ houses through the month is very commonplace, and you won’t be avoiding foods just because they don’t fit your macros. It’ll be all you have, so eat up and enjoy. Try your best to stay hydrated, supplement correctly, get on a good training program, and your precious gains will be safe.
4.) How will this affect my weight?
Most people think they are going to lose a lot of weight in Ramadan, but unfortunately, after not eating for most of the day, the majority of people pig out on a huge dinner (easily over 1,200 calories), and desserts and snacks throughout the night (easily another 1,000). Then comes the pre-sunrise breakfast that we eat before the fasting period begins, to put something in our stomach before the fasting begins. Sort of “stocking up” for the day. That’s often another 500. So we’re already at a surplus. Most people typically gain weight in Ramadan, so if you want to use it as a time to bulk, that’s fine, but I’ll address that in the next and final question. It’s important to weigh yourself accurately during Ramadan so you know how to change your eating habits. Get enough fiber so you can use the restroom regularly and get an accurate weigh-in every time you step on the scale, because of course after a night of feasting, you’ll be a couple pounds heavier than the morning before. So perhaps consistently way yourself right before dinner, not right when you wake up. You might not be happy seeing the number on the scale in the morning, since you just ate a big dinner & breakfast all in one night. It’s important to know what your goals are for this month, which brings us to the next question.
5.) Should I be bulking up or cutting down?
Everyone's goals are different, so tackle what means more to you. But to be honest, this month might be a time to maintain your strength and physique to the best of your ability, rather than losing or gaining a significant amount of weight. If you're looking to lose weight, my personal advice is to cut. If your ultimate goal is to gain size, then definitely don't follow that advice. But if you’re in the middle and you don’t really know what to do, I would advise to cut. This is your chance to limit your eating time to only about six hours. Like intermittent fasting, Ramadan forces you to grow disciplined in terms of food intake, and can help you lose weight if you stay disciplined. If you have a protein-packed dinner to break your fast, stay hydrated, have a protein shake later in the night, get an intense workout in whatever fashion works for you, and get enough sleep, then you’ll have a very successful cut for this month, and that’ll often make the coming months of your cut even easier. If you can go eighteen hours without eating or drinking, then after Ramadan, you’ll be able to keep your calories low through the day for a successful deficit and continue to lose a healthy amount of weight every week.
If you plan on bulking, which is perfectly fine, then ensure that your dinner is big and that your protein is high. If you’re bulking, you better have an awesome plan for your workouts because working out is even more important now. So keep your protein in check, your energy on track, and your workouts heavy and intense. Gaining strength and size is going to be difficult in this month, but if you stay determined, just like in anything else, you’ll see results.
I also advise to take pictures every week of Ramadan so you can see how the month affected you, so you can prepare even better for next year. Don’t forget the point of Ramadan: to get closer to God and be united with your family, friends, and other Muslims. Don’t let fitness overtake that. Enjoy yourself, have great dinners with other friends, enjoy the desserts that come to you in this month and the celebration of Eid after Ramadan, but just stay logical and keep your eyes on your goal.
This month might slow you down and you might lose some progress, but do your best to minimize those losses, and you’ll have a successful Ramadan.