Two of the most common challenges faced by active people is how to continue working out during the month of Ramadan, and, if they are fasting, what diet to maintain.
Fasting in Ramadan plays havoc on a person’s sleep cycle, dietary discipline, and ability to properly fuel and energize any workouts throughout the month. Planning to eat light Iftaris in order to work out after the fast opens seems like a great idea at first, but then hunger, headaches, impatience, and sheer lack of choices in your fridge takeover. Most people we speak to start eating just about anything they want within a few days of regular fasting, rendering them unable to either work out consistently or just not work out at all for the remainder of Ramadan.
Part of the problem is that by not consuming any food for up to 16 hours at a time we are in essence squeezing all our day calories into a shorter window of no more than 6 to 8 hours. Nowadays it is thought that fasting for certain periods results in increased fat burning even when daily calories are the same as when you ate throughout the day. The shorter calorie intake window means the body feels full quickly, and so doesn’t want to keep eating once it feels satisfied. The toughest discipline to working out in Ramadan is knowing how to control what you eat once you break your fast.
There are many lessons that can be learnt from people who regularly use intermittent fasting as a fat burning tool. Both methods of fasting have cellular and hormonal benefits, according to several leading studies and publications. Muscle & Fitness magazine says “human growth hormone (HGH) is the main hormone that is affected via intermittent fasting. HGH has muscle building and fat burning properties. Insulin sensitivity and circulating insulin levels also drop. When you are in a fasted state, your body makes changes to genes that effect longevity.” The key difference between the 2 fasting methods is that intermittent fasting allows for coffee, non-sugary drinks, and water in the fasting window while the full fast does not, making it a little tougher. But transitioning from working out on a full to empty stomach just takes a little training because the body’s got the fuel in reserve that just needs a little training to be used.
When it comes down to structure and daily routine there is really no hard and fast rule. We all are structured and wired differently, with different personalities and lifestyles. Hence we need to find a regime which works best for us. The key to success is focus and consistency. If you find a routine which doesn’t suit your lifestyle, the chances of you dropping out are high. For example, if you are not a morning person and you join a 7:00 am cardio class it’s not going to work for you. Similarly, if you are fasting in Ramadan then this is not the time to set unrealistic fitness or weight loss goals. There are lot of factors in Ramadan which are working against us such as dehydration, lack of sleep, and a total change of routine. Our bodies are already struggling to adapt to these changes so our advice would be to take it a little easy. Fat loss is definitely possible and one should aim to hit the gym at least 3 to 4 times in a week. Weight loss in Ramadan will also vary person to person, depending on your diet, frequency, and intensity of workouts.
A realistic and very easily attainable goal is to lose a couple kilograms of fat, as Ramadan gives you an advantage of easily hitting caloric deficits, a key to fat loss. Eat clean, stay away from fried foods and excess sugar. Follow the 80-20 diet rule; which simply put means eating clean 80 percent of the time and allow a few indulgences 20 percent of the time. This plan allows you indulgences without feeling guilty and ruining your progress. This is the most balanced approach to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
*Sheema Sultan and Adnan Gandhi are the co-owners of CORE (gym and studios) in Karachi.