In today’s increasingly multi-cultural, or cross-cultural (a phrase that suggest a type of integration that I feel we should be aiming for) society we always need to address certain differences. From those who won’t eat pork, not a problem at all when it comes to optimizing body composition, to those who won’t eat red meat (big problem) or even in some cases any type of animal product at all (we can improve such cases but they are totally screwed if wanting to get exceptionally lean and muscular! – read the benefits of and how to source wild meat). So in this spirit, I thought it might be useful to address an issue that affects a number of our London personal training clients and no doubt many of our readers at large. That is the subject of how to eat over the upcoming Islamic period of religious observance known as Ramadan. Proper nutrition, supplementation and exercise during Ramadan are very thorny issues for some.
The “rules” of Ramadan as I understand them, and if I have got anything wrong please will someone correct me, are that for a calendar month (the ninth in the Islamic calendar, the dates of which vary and are governed by a visible crescent in the astronomical new moon) a total fast (no food, no drink, no sex) must be adhered to from sunrise until sunset. For anyone seeking to improve their health, fitness and physical appearance this is something of a metabolic disaster and as much damage limitation as possible needs to be put into action – nutrition during Ramadan being typically a low blood sugar induced gorgefest. This is especially true as Ramadan seems to occur most often in the summer months when daylight is close to it’s peak. In many Islamic countries I believe that daytime life moves at a slower pace during Ramadan (in Dubai for example) and then picks up at night when people are eating, being sociable and generally feel more energetic as they have some food and drink inside their stomachs. This isn’t something that happens in the West however, and the thought of trying to maintain a functioning, healthy daytime lifestyle in London, during the month of August, without even water to subsist on must be a true test of religious observance that I for one can only marvel at.
My own rules for maintaining fitness, muscle tone, and minimizing a metabolic shutdown over Ramadan are as follows-
Nutrition, Supplementation & Exercise Rules For Ramadan:
1) Don’t use Ramadan as an excuse to not exercise. It is crucially important that you do some gym work over Ramadan as without it, and in the absence of a regular eating pattern, your metabolism will go on strike quicker than a British Airways cabin crew.
2) The best time to hit the gym during Ramadan is either early in the morning (after your first meal of the day) or after sunset (after your first meal post fasting).
3) Ensure that both your Ramadan “breakfasts” (by breakfast I literally mean the two meals following a fast, one following sleep or opening the fast, the other following the day’s fasting) contain easily digested protein and, depending upon body composition goals, some complex carbs and essential fats. If you are due to follow one of these meals with a hard workout something like a whey shake with essential fats, an apple and a handful of nuts would be great. I personally would wolf down 6 eggs, some coffee, and then go bang the weights – but not everyone could digest that and then train hard.
4) Unless you are feeling on top of the world I wouldn’t go seeking new personal bests in the gym during Ramadan. My advice would be to switch up your routine from the norm, so that you don’t feel down in any way about a noticeable decrease in physical performance, and try to make the workouts as fun and varied as possible.
5) Workout duration during Ramadan should be kept very tight. Get in and out of the gym in under one hour and preferably aim for 45 minutes of hard work. If you normally take much longer don’t worry, you can still get an awful lot done in 45 minutes and for those of you who are looking to gain muscle Ramadan is more about anti-atrophy workouts than super mega blasting hypertrophy!
6) During the time that you are allowed to drink you should be thinking “hydration, hydration, hydration!”. In past periods of Ramadan I have seen hardcore Muslim bodybuilders at Muscleworks Gym in Bethnal Green almost pass out as they tried to push themselves without drinking water. A good goal for a 200lb man should be to try to down 3litres of water between sunset and sunrise.
7) Some people get into a little panic before Ramadan thinking that they will lose all their hard earned gains as it is impossible to benefit from good nutrition, supplementation and exercise during Ramadan. This isn’t so, and with a bit of organization and thought there is no reason to take a big step backwards. 4-5 meals over a 24 hour period are very possible, and this alone should be enough for maintenance, and maybe for the very lucky ones, even some small improvements. For example (and I may be slightly off in daylight times here so please forgive me), one could eat a large pre Ramadan fast meal at 5.45am, then break the Ramadan fast at 7.30pm, eat again at 9.30pm, and finally have a supper at 11.30pm. It isn’t ideal, but it does show you that your physique doesn’t have to come crashing down. If minimising fat accumulation (or fat loss for the super ambitious) is your goal the mainstay of my macronutrients would be from protein and “good fats” (think unprocessed, natural fats and you won’t go far wrong).
8) There are also a few supplements that would definitely help ease the metabolic challenges of Ramadan. My top ten Ramadan supplement picks would be:
Acetyl L Carnitine (3gms upon awakening)
Essential Amino Acids (snack on these as much as possible during the hours of darkness)
Greens Powder (add several tablespoons to a large bottle of water and sip constantly)
Casein Protein Powder (for supper)
Whey Protein Powder
Multi Vit / Mineral
Magnesium (at night to aid sleep)
A good digestive enzyme complex
Phosphatidylserine (at night before sleep to reduce any extra cortisol production caused by daytime fasting / and to aid sleep)
In summary, the discipline of Ramadan need not prevent proper nutrition, supplementation and exercise. Yes, it will be challenging and require both discipline and moderation, but that is obviously what part of the whole process is about.
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