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In this guest blog post, my good friend and all round fitness hero, Faisal aka Mr PMA (Instagram @faisalpmafitness), shares his advice on how to eat and train during the holy month of Ramadan.
It is that time of year again and the holy month for Muslims is upon us. Ramadan is where we fast for 30 days from sunrise (suhoor) to sunset (iftar).
As a trainer, my fitness is not just important to me, it is vital. Therefore my world cannot stop when Ramadan begins. Like the many Muslim personal trainers, fitness enthusiasts and sports people around the world, I continue to train myself and I continue to train other people while I'm fasting.
It is incredibly hard, but a little positive mental attitude goes a long way. In my experience, much of the battle is mental, but training smart and eating right helps too.
Some of you may be wondering what I mean by fasting. Well, fasting during Ramadan basically means nil-by-mouth. That means no food, no water, no chewing gum, no nothing, until you break fast in the evening. No, not even water! When Ramadan falls in the summer months it is especially hard because the days are longer and the weather is warmer. The window to eat and sleep is significantly smaller than in the winter, so training has its challenges, but it's not impossible.
In the past I haven't really broadcast the fact that I'm fasting as I prefer to just get on with it, but the response I get from people when do I tell them is, "How on earth do you do it?" Given that, I thought I'd share with you my eating and training habits during Ramadan. Hopefully they will be useful to those of you out there who are also fasting during this blessed month.
In my experience, I find men tend to worry about losing size during Ramadan, while women worry about putting on weight. My best advice? Don't stress! The holy month isn't for you to worry about your physical appearance, your mind should be occupied with far more important things. If you maintain an exercise routine of some description then, even if you reduce the intensity, you will stay largely on track. Yes, you may lose a tiny bit of muscle mass, but you will remain healthy on the inside and that's what matters most. You won't lose it all overnight if you stay relatively consistent and eat well. Remember, Ramadan is not a diet. It's not a time to try and lose weight and it's not the best time to kick start a brand new exercise regime. Keep it steady and keep it safe.
What's the best way to train?
Unfortunately, the answer to this isn't one size fits all. You have to listen to your body and do what feels right for you as we all respond differently to fasting. If your body is telling you to sleep and rest, then you need to do just that. I tend to strength train in the day but drop the cardio and save it for after iftar if I want to go for a run, etc. BUT I've been doing that for years and my body responds well to it. For the majority of people I'd advise the following:
Ramadan is not the time to start training if you haven't exercised before. Your health is the priority and you must ensure any training you do is done safely.
If you're trying to maintain muscle mass, I'd personally try to limit cardio to twice a week and do after iftar rather than before.
Largely, I'd recommend most people train at a lower intensity just before iftar, or try something like a brisk walk.
If you want to continue with higher intensity workouts, try breaking your fast on something light like coconut water and dates beforehand.
Heavy weight training is usually best saved for before suhoor so you can refuel adequately within the "golden hour." Be realistic though, you may well lose some mass during Ramadan because it's hard to train so late at night and to keep your usual intensity. This is ok! If you maintain some sort of training and consistency, you're on the right path so don't panic. Focus on your internal health rather than the aesthetics.
What should I eat during Ramadan?
I don't make any massive changes to my diet during Ramadan. I just look at it as refuelling in a different time frame. One thing I continue to avoid is eating added or refined sugars because they play havoc with my energy levels, which is the last thing you want when fasting. You're far better to get your natural sugars from fruit so that there is nutritional value in what you're feeding your body. I also avoid salty and fried food because they're dehydrating and make the day a real struggle.
Here are some other tips:
Don't guzzle down your water. Aim for about 2.5 litres but rehydrate slowly and sensibly until you begin your fast again so your body can absorb it properly.
Don't feast. Don't overeat to try and compensate for lost calories in the day. Take your time and don't eat more than what you would in a normal day outside of Ramadan.
Avoid caffeine as it's a diuretic which will stimulate water loss. Keep that water on board.
Dates are traditionally used to break fast and are recommended because they're packed with potassium which helps your muscles and nerves function, and they keep you regular which can be an issue for some during Ramadan. But they're also high in sugar so go easy on them.
Eat a rainbow - a colourful plate is likely to be far more nutritious than a beige one loaded with carbs.
Opt for complex, fibrous, slow-release carbohydrates with meals such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, beans, lentils or sweet potatoes because it takes longer to break them down. This means they provide energy for longer and stabilise your blood sugar rather than sending it soaring.
It is ok to struggle. It isn't meant to be easy and as with most things in life, the harder the struggle, the greater the reward. If you honestly want to maintain an exercise regime and continue with eating well, you can. When you find yourself struggling, unlock your PMA and remember why you're doing it in the first place.
Don't overly stress about exactly what you should be doing as there's no magic formula. Play around with your training times and training styles and you will find what works for you.
Overall, enjoy it. Look at it as a personal challenge and one that brings great reward. Wishing you all a blessed month.
Written by Faisal Adballa. Faisal Abdalla aka Mr PMA is the author of The PMA Method published by Aster and is available online here www.amazon.co.uk and all good bookstores.