So we are already past the half way mark of Ramadan 2016, and it can be the point when people start to feel drained from the long fasts, lack of sleep and lack of exercise. Although exercise may seem to be a dead ringer to leave out as a benefit during the month, consider how retracting on fitness targets you have already reached only to dip for the entire month of Ramadan will have likely added to the sluggishness your feeling right now. Along with the typical combination of breaking ones fast with those deep-fried spring rolls, tempting heavy cultural treats, and iftar parties really do eventually culminate in taking you far off the running track.
How to Exercise in Ramadan?
Does the above question make me sound like my 18-something hour deficiency of no drinking or eating has gone to my head? To be honest I used to balk at the thought of exercise during the long summer Ramadan fasts myself, the fitness goals would be duly suspended for the month per assumption that I can not possibly add an intense physical exertion to an already dehydrated body. I knew I was not alone in this as many friends and family also take a step back in their sports for the month (I wonder how many empty badminton courts there are in Ramadan!). But one day I simply did a workout routine (albeit adjusted routine) and if anything it really helped keep me alert for the hour remaining before I broke the fast when otherwise I would’ve been counting the minutes! That’s when I figured out it is largely a psychological hesitation that we cannot maintain our fitness routine, when if you get your timing sorted, correct workout intensity and food setup you don’t need to leave your New Year goals rolling to the wayside.
I recently saw a media clip of Moeen Ali, the England international cricketer maintaining his athletic training and competing in 2016 competitive games whilst fasting. I admire Moeen’s strength, and all professional athletes who manage to balance competitions with fasting and upon watching Moeen Ali bat across the cricket pitch felt super motivated to share how this can somewhat be achieved by us average folks too rather than seem like a distant category left for the top notch athletes. Interestingly, Moeen Ali said fasting “makes me sharper” during his games. Although I can’t promise that this is how you will feel with exercise or fasting, I can say that maintaining the fitness levels you already have achieved is feasible during the fasting month and will help you feel more capable overall in achieving challenges during the fasting day . Physically it will help with digestion of your food, pumping the circulation helps counter the slump one can feel after breaking fast and significantly it will maximise the detox opportunity fasting brings.
Timely to writing this, and given I literally only logged into snapchat this Ramadan because I was told to watch Imam Suhaib Webb #snapseer I was completely bowled over at viewing the Imam’s snapchat of pushing hefty weights with his trainer at the gym today! Side note – I have no idea how snapchat works, am still trying to figure out how to watch previous snapchat history but would recommend to check out Imam Suhaib snapchat. If not to cheer at the cool sight of an Imam pumping weights, it is literally 8 seconds of intriguing snaps with an easy to absorb thematic relay on the stories of Quran. My favourite so far has to be the #snapseer on chapter 13, 14 loneliness topic which was perfectly timed upon the visually poignant, absolutely absorbing backdrop of the beach, rocks and birds.
Now, coming to the crux of the recommendation to share from my own and my fellow friends experiences of the most practically viable fasting-exercise timing options whittled down to three:
- (1) The 2 hour window: 2 hours before the fast period ends do your normal work out. This is a great timing as it won’t be too long before you break your fast and fits in perfectly with current fasting iftar time being at least 2 -3 hours after returning from your day work/school commitments.
- (2) Treadmill on a date: When you break your fast, have a glass of water, a couple of dates and nothing more, than head straight out to your gym routine. My friend does this especially as her fitness is heavily cardio orientated. This is great option for those who like to exercise on empty stomach but just need some water.
- (3)The midnight run: Have your full iftar meal, wait until your night prayers are finished so you have some gap for food to digest than go for your workout. With current fasting timing in England this is about midnight, so will be most practical to do during weekends. This is best suited for those that need food before exercise, if you are doing more than one exercise routine that day slot in the more intense exercise routine at this point or you have children because really what other time is there for ‘me’ time other than dead of night when they are hopefully sound asleep!
Of course consult your doctor if you have any health issues and choose a routine that suits you best. If you are new to exercise and the benefits you have felt from fasting have prompted you to further add to your health goals with some exercise than great. Start off gently with something like a brisk walk right before you break your fast (iftar), that way it is not too long before you can indulge your thirst nor too straining.
One can’t talk about fitness in Ramadan without talking about what you put in you stomach after you break your fast. Your food intake has to be sufficient for your physical needs, and wholesome foods really do also feed your soul. Ramadan is not the time to aim to have 300 calorie restricted diet; I hear sisters stories of how they managed to lose so much weight during this month precisely because of the little food they also eat after they break their fast or not waking up for the sehri, morning breakfast. If your doing this than any exercise you do will not feel great, and you really could hurt yourself with feeling shaky and dizzy during physical workouts.
Consuming nutritionally dense foods like brown rice and keeping your protein up with beans and pulses will help with stable energy release and feeding your body suitably. My current obsession is a Korean congee style dish essentially brown rice and lentil stew, which I change every day with varying Moroccan or indian spices just to keep it fresh. Often with a side dish of hummus, chickpea vegetable dish, a fruit salad and of course water. For pre/post-work protein kick I absolutely love having a Deliciously Ella energy ball (Ella’s recipe link). Ella’s recipe is gluten and dairy free, with dates as main stay ingredient so it really does help pack a punch of energy without adding any heavy bloating.
You may think there’s 12 days left so what’s the point, but really that is the whole point you have 12 days left to make it an even better, healthier fast yet. As poetically put by the coolest weight lifting Imam right now, Suhaib Webb:
” The middle of the month brings a full bright moon to remind us how complete we’ve become since the month started; while the moon’s glow reminds us the our spiritual light has grown also”.