Ramadan can be a challenging time for many fitness-conscious Muslims who are looking to build muscle and improve their physiques.
Long hours of fasting without food and water require some smart planning with training and nutrition to be able to maintain muscle and strength during the holy month.
Ultimate Performance personal trainer Umar Malik, a practicing Muslim who is observing the fast, explains how he stays in shape during Ramadan.
With long hours of fasting without food or water, and limited time to get to the gym, it can be tempting to abandon your regular training and diet during Ramadan.
However, this can really set you back and undo all your hard-earned progress.
It’s really important to keep training regularly during Ramadan to maintain muscle mass and strength. Don’t let your training slip.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that your output and performance in training will likely suffer after long hours of fasting.
That’s why Ramadan is more about maintaining your strength, consolidating the muscle you’ve built, and putting yourself in a good position to push on towards your goals once Ramadan ends.
It’s certainly not going to be a month where you’re going to be chasing down personal bests every week and aggressively building muscle.
Maintaining muscle mass and strength is much easier than trying to build muscle, so don’t worry about decreasing your volume and shortening your training sessions.
I would advise that you aim to complete a minimum of three resistance training sessions a week during the Holy Month.
During Ramadan, I will increase my training frequency to five workouts per week but will limit them to 45 minutes each. You can still get a lot done in 45 minutes and you will be able to still train with intensity over the shorter duration.
The most optimal time to train is after breaking fast in the evening.
I normally train in the afternoon but will switch to training in the evening straight after the fasting window closes.
It’s not always ideal training so late in the evenings, especially during the working week, so a good tip is to plan your workouts to fall on the weekend where staying up later and worrying about being tired for work isn’t a problem.
A sensible approach to take with your workouts is lowering your weights by 10% and focusing on perfect form and time under tension on each rep.
Training with a reduced weight might feel frustrating, but you can use this as an opportunity to introduce new exercises into your workouts.
Ramadan is a chance to try out new exercises or movements where you initially need to lift lighter weights than your muscles can handle while you master the technique.
The biggest benefits of doing this are that you can really focus on technique using the lighter weights, and actually feel like you’re making progress on new exercises.
Don’t go wild with a new workout every day, though.
It’s important to have a structured training program to follow so you can monitor your progress effectively from week to week.
Make sure you keep a detailed log of every workout you do. It will help you track your progress, learn from every workout and refine your approach, where needed.
You should avoid training to failure and pushing yourself too hard during Ramadan. Try and stop one or two reps short of failure on every set.
Also, remove any high intensity cardio or conditioning exercises from your training program and just focus on keeping your daily activity levels and step count high for the month.
Nutrition is vitally important to achieving your fitness and body composition goals at any time of year, but even more so during the Ramadan fast.
If you don’t plan ahead and try to stick to your regular food choices and meals as closely as possible, it’s easy to lose control of your diet and lose all your hard-earned progress.
Even with long hours of fasting with no food and water, it’s still possible to overeat during Ramadan with an array of calorie-dense foods on offer.
Try to eat what you would normally eat as closely as possible – plenty of protein, healthy fats, and lots of nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables.
Protein is really key if you want to maintain muscle mass during Ramadan. Ensure that you’re hitting your daily protein target alongside your weight training sessions during the month to consolidate the muscle tissue you have built.
If your goal is fat loss, use Ramadan as an opportunity to work on tracking your calories and preparing your meals.
This planning, preparation and monitoring will really help your progress and set you up well for stepping your program up a level when Ramadan ends.
For anyone who has a high ‘maintenance’ requirement, like myself, this can pose a different challenge in that you may struggle to consume enough quality calories around the fast to maintain your current body composition and muscle mass.
My advice is that you have to ensure your daily calorie intake doesn’t fall too low and that your protein intake remains high.
Water intake is equally important to stay fit and healthy around the fast.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after workouts, and keep a check on your urine colour to ensure that you’re getting enough water (drink enough water until your urine is clear).
A little consistency and forward planning with your diet and training can go a long way to maintaining your health and fitness.
Written by Umar Malik, a devout Muslim and a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in London. He went through his own transformation with Ultimate Performance before becoming a trainer.