Ramadan: This is what you need to know if you’re fasting but still want to exercise
Experts say it’s fine to workout during the holy month, but you need to be wary of low energy levels and the potential of dehydration.
Hijab girl exercising outdoors in early morning
Ramadan starts today, May 5, and many Muslims will start fasting between dawn and sunset throughout the holy month.
In order to healthily fast there’s a lot to think about – like what food to eat when you do break, what you should be drinking and how to prevent a disrupted sleep schedule. Another big consideration for many practising Muslims is how best to exercise during the holy period.
There’s no reason you should stop working out because you’re fasting, but it’s obvious you shouldn’t be aiming for PBs in weightlifting during this time. You have to be a bit more careful with how and when you exercise, as your body isn’t as fuelled as it might normally be.
This is what a medical professional and a personal trainer have to say about working out during Ramadan.
What a doctor says…
Older couple walking
Walking is a good way to stay active during Ramadan (iStock/PA)
Medicspot GP Dr Farah Gilani says it is safe to exercise while fasting, but she also recommends you do so with care.
“Those who are fasting should not be considering increasing their exercise levels during the fasting month, and indeed may need to reduce the length or intensity of their usual workouts while they are fasting,” she explains. “In addition, while it is possible to continue an existing exercise routine, Ramadan is perhaps not the best time to start a regular exercise programme for a novice, as the body is already adjusting to the changes that occur with fasting.”
There are plenty of things to consider if you want to stay active during Ramadan. Gilani says it’s important to think about the time of day you exercise.”While individuals may be used to working out first thing, in Ramadan this is usually inadvisable, as it can lead to excess hunger, thirst and dehydration for the remainder of the day,” she says.
“Instead, exercising while fasting may be best just before Iftar (the breaking of the fast), or between Iftar and Suhoor (the beginning of the fast). This allows the body to be replenished with fluids and nutrients after the workout.”
The nature of Ramadan means sleep schedules are often disrupted, which can lead to tiredness and a lack of energy to work out. Gilani says this can lead to an increase in appetite, so suggests combating this with regular naps. She explains: “By getting a reasonable amount of sleep, you’ll able to better control your cravings during the day and improve energy levels,” and thus making exercise easier.
If you do want to stay active during Ramadan, it’s also important to pay close attention to what you eat and drink when breaking the fast.
“Make sure your diet remains varied and balanced, with plenty of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables,” Gilani says. “Eating fruit and vegetables that span the full rainbow of colours is the best way to ensure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients from your diet.
“Try to avoid the temptation of sugary and fried foods or to reduce the portions of these. Instead, choose foods that release energy slowly such as wholegrains, oats and foods which are high in fibre to help keep you going between meals.” She also advises you drink plenty of water to help with energy and alertness. “Exercising with even mild to moderate dehydration can have significant health risks,” she says.
Working out when fasting will put your body under more stress than it might be used to, so Gilani adds: “For those who have pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, it is important to consult your GP prior to Ramadan, to discuss management of the condition throughout the fasting month and any required modifications to the individual’s usual activities.”
What a personal trainer says…
Woman doing yoga
Yoga flows are a good way to workout without sweating too much (iStock/PA)
PT and product development manager at TRAINFITNESS Richard Scrivener says “hydration is the biggest concern” when considering exercise during Ramadan.
“Therefore, during Ramadan, light exercise which is of low volume and does not induce significant sweating is the best option,” he says.
He suggests mobility and stretch sequences “such as yoga complexes, dynamic stretching and functional range conditioning”, or “a light walk or cycle for 45 minutes.” Other options include technique-focused workouts which don’t leave you dripping with sweat.
Scrivener recommends practising five exercises in a circuit with plenty of rest between moves. Doing moves like squats properly – without doing lots of reps or lifting heavy weights – will mean you won’t get injured when you do increase the intensity.
Just because you’re not going at full power, doesn’t mean you won’t get anything out of your sessions.
Scrivener suggests doing “workouts which focus on coordination, body awareness and proprioception [awareness of your body’s movements], such as ‘animal flow’ where the hands and feet connect with the ground.”
Lastly, you could also try ‘weak link postural training’. “It’s a short 20 minute workout targeting parts of the body which typically suffer from distorted posture,” says Scrivener. This could mean working on your shoulder alignment by doing wall angels, strengthening your upper spine with band pull-a-parts, or focusing on your hips with glute bridges.
© Press Association 2019