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How to work out and eat to maintain muscle and fitness while fasting during Ramadan

Rachel Hosie   

How to work out and eat to maintain muscle and fitness while fasting during Ramadan
  • Ramadan falls from March 10 to April 9 this year and sees Muslims across the world fasting from dawn to dusk.
  • Personal trainer Faisal Abdalla shared his top tips for keeping fit during Ramadan with Business Insider.

This year, Ramadan falls from March 10 to April 9 and sees Muslims across the world fasting from sunrise to sunset while reflecting, spending time with family, and celebrating the holy month.

As the dates change every year, so does the fasting window — being nearly summer, at the end of Ramadan 2024 in London, UK, for example, Muslims will be fasting from just after 6 a.m. to nearly 8 p.m.

Not only does this mean no food for nearly 14 hours, but no water or other drinks either.

It's important to look after yourself and stay healthy during Ramadan, and for people who are particularly into their fitness, personal trainer Faisal Abdalla has an excellent guide on how to workout during the holy month.

"As a trainer, my fitness is not just important to me, it is vital," Abdalla, who is known as Mr. PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), wrote. "Therefore my world cannot stop when Ramadan begins. Like the many Muslim personal trainers, fitness enthusiasts, and sports people around the world, I continue to train myself and I continue to train other people while I'm fasting."

There's no best way to train during Ramadan

When it comes to exercising during Ramadan, there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

"We all respond to fasting in different ways, we all have different family set-ups and demands upon us, and the same goes for work outside of the home," Abdalla told Business Insider.

Everyone responds differently to fasting, so Abdalla stresses the importance of listening to your body.

For him, this means strength training during the day but saving any cardio for after iftar (breaking the fast at sunset).

"But I've been doing that for years and my body responds well to it," Abdalla added. "It's not something I recommend in general to most people, but it works for me."

If you're conscious of holding on to your muscle during Ramadan, Abdalla recommends limiting cardio to twice a week and, like him, doing it after iftar.

He also advises keeping workouts light in daylight hours, like going on a brisk walk, and saving any higher intensity workouts until after you've broken your fast.

If you want to do heavy weight training, Abdalla advises doing so early in the morning before suhoor (sunrise), so you can refuel properly afterward.

Don't start a new exercise regime during Ramadan

One thing Abdalla absolutely does not recommend, however, is starting a new workout regime during Ramadan.

"Ramadan is all about bettering yourself in every way, and your health is an integral part of that," he said.

"Therefore you should certainly be looking to keep moving and stay active, but I wouldn't recommend starting a whole new grueling exercise regime."

If you don't normally exercise at all, Abdalla advises keeping movement light.

"Picking up intensive training shouldn't be done when you're not hydrated and adequately fueled," he said.

"Above anything else, it won't be enjoyable and if you want something to be sustainable it has to be something you want to keep doing!"

He recommends going for walks or trying some of the low-intensity exercises he's sharing on his Ramadan IGTV series, and saving the big fitness push for after the holy month.

Eat to fuel and recover from your workouts

Avoid salty, processed foods

Eating healthily and limiting refined sugars during Ramadan is recommended as it will help you regulate your energy levels.

Ideally, you want to avoid processed, fried, and salty foods. "These will dehydrate you and make the fast feel so much longer," Juliana Campos, former fitness coach to the Abu Dhabi royal family, explained to BI.

Abdalla echoed this point, saying that such foods "make the next day a real struggle, especially if you're training or losing fluids through sweat in warmer weather."

Rehydrate sensibly

While it might be tempting to guzzle down as much water as you can after sunset, this isn't recommended.

"Aim for about 2.5 liters but rehydrate slowly and sensibly until you begin your fast again so your body can absorb it properly," said Abdalla. "And if you train after breaking fast, be sure to sip water during your training and after."

"I would also recommend taking vitamin C supplements and making juices or teas with fresh ginger and turmeric, as both ingredients are packed full of antioxidants and are great for the immune system," Campos said.

Avoid caffeine as it will dehydrate you further.

Don't overeat

"Don't overeat to try and compensate for lost calories in the day," said Abdalla. "Take your time and don't eat more than what you would in a normal day outside of Ramadan."

Keep your energy levels up by focusing on nutritious, colorful foods.

"Opt for complex, fibrous, slow-release carbohydrates with meals such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, or sweet potatoes because it takes longer to break them down," explained Abdalla, adding that such foods will release energy slowly and stabilize your blood sugar.

Dates are traditionally eaten to break the fast and are a great energy source.

"Dates are recommended because they're packed with potassium which helps your muscles and nerves function, and they keep you regular which can be an issue in the first few days of fasting," said Abdalla.

"But they're also high in sugar so go easy on them."

Your fitness levels and physique may change temporarily

It's important to be realistic — given your lifestyle changes during Ramadan, your fitness levels likely will too. But that's OK.

You probably won't lose significant muscle mass

"If you keep your training as consistent as possible and maintain a good quality diet with high protein intake, you won't lose significant muscle mass, but you're likely to lose some and that's just something you have to accept," Abdalla said.

"I always stress that consistency is key and losing a bit of muscle mass shouldn't be your main concern during Ramadan. We fast for a higher purpose and shouldn't lose sight of that," he added.

You can maintain your weight

While some people are worried about gaining weight during Ramadan, others tend to lose it.

"Again, if you're consistent in your training and in eating well, then significant weight gain shouldn't be a concern," said Abdalla.

"If anything, people tend to lose weight, especially in these warmer months where the window for eating is significantly smaller. It's just hard to physically get in the same amount of food that you would outside of Ramadan."

Some do end up gaining weight, however, if they look at Iftar as a reward for fasting and thus approach it with a feasting mentality.

"Similarly, if low blood sugar hits, you may be craving sugary, high-fat foods," said Abdalla. "It goes without saying, if that's what you're fueling your body with when you break fast, you're likely to gain some weight."

You won't lose much progress in a month

After 30 days outside of your normal training regime, you might feel like your strength and fitness has plummeted, but this isn't really the case.

In fact, Abdalla said that if you stay active during Ramadan, your muscle memory will kick back in almost immediately when you get back to normal training afterward.

"Exercise shouldn't and doesn't need to stop just because of Ramadan," he said. "It may need adjusting slightly to fit what you feel capable of, but it's easy enough to get back into it if you stay active throughout.

"In my experience, it's far more of a psychological battle. People feel weak, like they've lost strength and momentum. Once you overcome that mental hurdle and ignore those negative thoughts, you will find you slip straight back in."

Be kind to yourself

Remember, your body will adjust after a few days.

"As Ramadan goes on, it all gets easier," said Abdalla. "The first couple of days are always the hardest and your energy is really low, the hunger is always worse at the start.

"But in no time it becomes your new normal and your body gets used to its new routine and everything steadies out."

Ultimately, it's important to keep things in perspective. Ramadan isn't a diet, and although staying healthy is important, it's not the time to be trying to hit PBs and get in the best physical shape of your life.

"Remember not to push yourself too hard, Ramadan isn't the time to strive for your personal bests," said Campos.

"Be kind to yourself."