So you want to fast but you don’t want to give up your favourite sport for a whole month? Difficult, but not impossible. Ramadan can put a lot of strain on the bodies of those who are fasting, which makes exercise and good nutrition difficult to maintain during the Holy Month, a time when dehydration, decreased muscle mass and weight gain are common among those who fast.
It means for those who want to improve their health and fitness, Ramadan can be something of a metabolic minefield, says Vijay Ramburuth, nutrition and personal trainer consultant at ‘u concept’ boutique health club in DIFC.
But Vijay says there are ways to stay sporty. ‘A lot of stress is put on the body and mind during Ramadan,’ says Vijay. ‘As much damage limitation needs to be put into action as possible so as to not suffer severe health-related problems during and after Ramadan. This is especially true when Ramadan falls during summer because daylight hours are close to their peak.
‘Daytime life moves at a slower pace during Ramadan and then completely changes at night when Muslims break their fast. Once they begin eating and being sociable with friends and family, people generally feel more energetic.’ Ramadan should not be used as an excuse to take a break from exercising, according to Vijay. ‘It is extremely important that you do some form of physical activity over Ramadan,’ he says. ‘Without it, and in the absence of a regular eating pattern, your metabolism will gradually slow down and your body will not operate at its optimum level.’
But with your body clock completely thrown, when is the best time to pull on your running shoes? ‘The ideal time is either very early in the morning after your last meal of the post-fast, or after sunset following your first meal,’ says Vijay. ‘This will give your metabolism some normality.
‘Exercise duration should be kept to a minimum. Aim for 45 minutes of high-intensity work. Ramadan should be more about maintaining muscle rather than muscle growth.’
Given the fast-and-feast nature of Ramadan, a diet that supports an active lifestyle is probably the toughest challenge. But it is water, rather than food, that is the secret to staying fit.
‘Once the sun sets and you are allowed to drink, your focus should be hydration,’ Vijay says. ‘This is the key to your metabolism surviving the month’s physiological stress.
‘Your daily target should be from three to five litres of water a day, but this depends on your exertion levels. Eat four or five small meals during the post-fast period, which should be enough for maintenance, or, for people with very high metabolisms, could even be a minor improvement.
‘Eat a large pre-fast meal before sunrise, then break the fast when the sun goes down. Eat again at about 9.30pm and finally have a pre-bedtime meal at 11.30pm. This is by no means ideal, but it maintains some normality.’
Without much control over when to eat, you should show discipline when choosing what to eat, says Vijay.
‘Ensure that meals contain easily digestible protein and, depending upon your body composition goals, some complex carbohydrates and essential fats,’ he says. ‘Follow an intense workout with a natural whey or soya-based shake with essential fats, a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts.
‘Eat something wholesome such as eggs, grilled vegetables, wholemeal toast and coffee, then go straight into your workout. But not everyone could digest that much food and then train at that intensity. Do what suits your body.
‘Ramadan should not prevent proper nutrition and physical activity. It will be very challenging and requires both strict discipline and moderation, but that is the true meaning of Ramadan.’
u concept specialises in personal fitness and nutrition advice. Prices vary. The Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai (04 344 9060) www.uconcept6.com
Nutritional supplements to aid body when fasting
Acetyl L Carnitine (3g in the morning)
Essential amino acids
Casein protein powder before sleep as a slow digested protein source
Magnesium at night to assist sleep
Omega 3s and essential fatty acids
A good digestive enzyme complex
Phosphatidylserine before sleep to reduce extra cortisol production caused by fasting and to aid sleep