Ramadan Embaraksha/Mubarak/Kareem! :]
2013 Update: I have a Ramadan 2013 blog post linked here
Last year I wrote a piece on Ramadan (fasting), training and diet. It is located here (and at the bottom of this post):
I decided to write another post based on what people have been asking me as an addendum but you can refer to the original post for more detail and scientific references.
This year Ramadan is about 2 weeks earlier and hotter than last year. It also falls during the Olympics and in the midst of turmoil, such as in Syria. President Obama sent Ramadan Greetings to American Muslims.
Table of Contents
Eating the pre-fast/pre-dawn/peshmanay/suhoor/sehri meal
What to eat after sunset (fast break/iftar), and dinner
When to workout
Crossfit related (Weightlifting & Metcons/Endurance)
Fasting in countries with long days (19 or more hours) or the sun does not set or rise:
What I am personally doing this year
My Ramadan post from last year 2011
You need to consider your own health, current fitness level, allergies, and consulting with your medical professional. What I have written is something you can use as a guide or help you make decisions on what you need or want to do for Ramadan. I encourage you to do your own research as well. Here are links to some diet theories to look into: paleo, primal, keto, Gary Taubes and Eades’ books.
Eating the pre-fast/pre-dawn/peshmanay/suhoor/sehri meal:
Many are asking why low carb or no carbs? Doesn’t one need carbs to have energy during the day while you are fasting?
The rationale is to help alleviate thirst and hunger during the day while fasting. If you are going to train during the day or earlier in the day, and are in activities (endurance, long duration) or diet goals that might need more carbs (not necessarily losing fat but more on performance), you could choose good carbs that are not high glycemic, spike your insulin or sugar based. Sweet potatoes and brown rice are some good choices if you really need to have it.
Otherwise having carbs is not needed or going to be helpful at suhoor (pre-fast) time. In brief, carbs are what make you hungry (spiking your insulin then crashing), and retain water. Also, when you have too many carbs, your body won’t use fat for fuel and burn it off. In addition to adequate protein (based on your lean body mass & activity level), fat is going to help you feel satiated and get the calories you need. Some good fats are: Coconut oil (MCT), grass fed butter, avocado, nuts, and the fat in grass fed meat and in seafood (try to have little or no omega 6 fat, we get too much of that and not enough omega 3) and you can supplement with fish oil. How many calories you should get again depends on your goals, what you weigh and what your body fat percentage is. Again, you can always experiment and see how it is for you.
What to eat after sunset (fast break/iftar), and dinner:
Traditionally we break fast with dates and/or water. My original post explains the health benefits of breaking a fast with dates.
As for what you eat for dinner and before sleeping will depend on when you workout or what your activity is. It would be the time you would consume the carbs that you need (pre or post working out) with your meals.
Make sure you keep drinking water!
When to workout:
There are various choices and differences of opinions on when the best time is. But the problem for many is one does not always have that choice because of schedule or a gym’s schedule. Before starting your fast or after breaking your fast would be best so you can drink water while working out. Which you choose could depend on whether you are a morning person or not. But night time after eating iftar or dinner, you could feel lethargic. Working out at night might not allow you to sleep at a decent time, making it harder to get up to eat before sunrise. If neither are options for you, it is possible to workout in a fasted state.
Crossfit related (Weightlifting & Metcons/Endurance):
Most gyms have a WOD for a certain day that all of the group classes participate in, and then it is scaled for each person. As your body adapts to fasting, you will most likely need to scale the WOD and see how you feel. In your warm up, try out the weights to see what weight you should use for the workout, whatever does not feel too intense or heavy, because you might feel like something is harder than when you are not fasting. You might have to pace yourself more so than usual for metcons, making sure to breath! Weightlifting or lift attempts with rests in between might be easier. It is going to be important that you let your trainer know that you are fasting so she/he can be aware, and that you might need to scale or change the workout.
When you workout will be dependant on the time your gym closes and opens, and when you choose to do so will depend on your work schedule as well. If you have options (such as working out before starting a fast, during a fast, or after breaking your fast) then choose the best for you, every choice has pros and cons. If you do not have a choice, try to do the best you can. The first week you will need to get used to fasting, so you might have to workout less days than you normally do before Ramadan started.
This would be similar to that written above for Crossfit. You might have to reduce the weight and decrease volume based on how you feel and slowly get adapted to fasting. You get rests in between sets, and might not lose as much water v.s. Crossfit, so this could be a better option for Ramadan, especially if you have to train while you are fasting. Try not to push your maxes too much too fast, pay attention to how you feel, and make sure you take full deep breaths, you do not want to black out and get dizzy during a lift attempt! (Once I got dizzy and blacked out right was I was about to rack the barbell, I missed the right side, and the barbell plus weights crashed down on the right causing the left side to flip up. I learned my lesson and have avoided this by making sure I breathe or let the weight drop to the floor as opposed to re-racking)
It is good to vary your training once in awhile, so your body does not get into a routine, and this might be the time to try that out. For competitions, your lifting time could be different than the time you train, or could change, and that is one motivation for mixing up your regular training times.
Fasting in countries with long days (19 or more hours) or the sun does not set or rise:
A Crossfitter in Norway asked me about this situation. Some countries that have this issue are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland and possibly others. It will vary by each country but I have looked up general information on scholars opinions. They use the same ruling for the fast in these countries the same as determining the 5 prayer times. One would use the times as the nearest country to them that has distinct prayer times to determine their prayer times as well as the start and end of their fast for Ramadan. If the start and end times are extremely long to the point of hardship (this will vary for each person), some opinions are to follow the fast times of Makkah and Madina OR the closest country. Here are some links to some sources so you can search yourself and/or consult with your local scholar:
For this the advice is similar, you have a shorter time window to eat and drink, so you need to get the amount of calories you require in a day. This is where fat consumption helps and trying to drink water at intervals (and an electrolyte is an option).
What I am personally doing this year:
I will take the first day off, maybe an another extra day off the first week as I get acclimated to fasting. I will weightlift, no metcons (I sweat too much, lose a lot of water and no A/C) but I most likely will not go to max efforts, unless I feel OK and do not get dizzy. I will use lighter weights, more volume and make sure to have sufficient rest in between sets. Unfortunately, the weather is very hot & humid in Atlanta for this Ramadan so I need to be mindful of getting as much water as I can between sunset and sunrise. I will most likely workout towards the last 2 hours the gym closes, which will be before sunset, but at least I can go home, wait a bit and break my fast. Working out before sunrise is going to be way too early for me and I don’t feel like being in the gym alone. I could work out after sunset and the iftar meal, but that is going to be late and its not the best idea with regards to my personal safety (that is, being in the gym, alone, late at night). Plus, it will not take away from spiritual time and/or going to the masjid. This is what I have done every year (mostly working out before iftar), so I am used to it and know what to expect.
For diet, I am not competing or training as intensely, so I do not have to be as strict but I am definitely going to have quality and healthy foods. I mostly avoid gluten, grains, starches, sugar and processed foods as much as possible. I eat protein (meat [grass fed if possible], seafood (wild caught), eggs), good fats, mostly vegetables (non starch), some fruits (I try to avoid too much of the high glycemic fruits), most dairy except greek yogurt, kefir, & cheese (grass fed if possible). Dark chocolate everyday! I always supplement with fish oil, vitamin D, and sometimes a probiotic. This, I feel, works the best for me.
My pre-fast meal will be protein and fat, some vegetables. I will break my fast at iftar with dates and water. Then after a while, I will eat a regular meal with protein, fat and vegetables and some fruit. The whole time, I will keep drinking water.
My Ramadan post from last year 2011:
It makes me reflect to last year, which has similar themes to years before that which is that I workout and train during Ramadan. Many think I am insane, though as the years have gone by, that number has gone down. Part of the reason is that more people know about Ramadan, and also more people are fasting for non-religious reasons. The more popular and accepted fasting is in the secular mainstream, the more people do not feel sorry for me. Some of the fasts that are popular for non-religious reasons, are intermittent fasting, and fasting while working out, and one called the warrior diet (which I will include links to at the end of this article). They do drink water, and in the warrior diet, some supplement or whey powder is taken before their workout. So the part about not drinking any water does still make them do a double take. It is definitely a challenge, especially when the weather is hot (especially in Atlanta aka HOTlanta).
There is a masjid walking distance to me (these guys are traveling to 30 masajids), so it is not difficult for me to attend Iftar and/or the Taraweh prayers. I usually do not attend the Iftar, unless I take my own food. Diet is important to me, and what I try to eat does not go with the usual yummy Iftar fare. I don’t attend or take my own food, because so many people go, they need to have plates already portioned with all the food items, and I don’t like to waste food. [disclaimer: I still like to treat myself to traditional food. I just do not do it everyday] I can still meet people I do not see other times of the year by going after Iftar and for Taraweh.
Ramadan is coming at a time I need some peace and reflection. It has been pretty hectic for me the past month. See the news articles for more information, but it had to do with weightlifting competitions and the way I dress.
I like food and sometimes I think I do over do it. I try to remind myself of this Hadith:
On the authority of Al-Miqdam ibn Madiy-Karib who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, “No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.”
[more Hadith on Ramadan]
Ramadan helps me to reset my food intake and remind me that I am blessed that I do have it. Most of the time, we think we need to eat more than we really do. It also gives me extra time in the day because I do not spend time preparing or making meals that I would normally for day time eating and drinking.
This year I hope in spite of being busy and training, I will at least give more time than I usually do to reviving my faith. I had some recent reminders of fasting. Before going to the USA Weightlifting National championships, I had to cut some weight. (my blog post about nationals) About one week before, I had to restrict daily calories and the day before my competition, I cut water weight by sitting in a tub of hot water with salt (no sauna or sauna suits were available). I felt that familiar thirsty feeling I do during Ramadan, except it was hot. It reminded me that I have the luxury of being in a home, car, and buildings with A/C.
Training while fasting
Working out is not as bad as one may think. It is possible to make gains, if not, at least maintain without losing muscle. Another advantage is you can lose fat if that is one of your goals. [see , excerpts below]
“Short-term fasting has no effect on average cortisol levels and this is an area that has been extensively studied in the context of Ramadan fasting . Cortisol typically follows a diurnal variation, which means that its levels peak in the morning at around 8 a.m. and decline in the evenings. What changes during Ramadan is simply the cortisol rhythm, average levels across 24 hours remain unchanged .
In one Ramadan study on rugby players , subjects lost fat and retained muscle very well. And they did despite training in a dehydrated state, without pre-workout or post-workout protein intake, and with a lower protein intake overall nonetheless.
“Body mass decreased significantly and progressively over the 4-week period; fat was lost, but lean tissue was conserved…“
In conclusion, the belief that fasting increases cortisol, which then might cause all kinds of mischief such as muscle loss, has no scientific basis whatsoever.” .
I do not personally do much aerobic activity but the article  does give reference to relevant research  saying that during Ramadan there is a small negative impact on performance (e.g. 60 minutes of running ) and that mainly has to do with dehydration. There is even less impact when it comes to weight training (anaerobic) .
I sometimes have to rest a little more in between lifting sets, but with weightlifting, I don’t do that many reps in a row. I try to make a more conscious effort of sitting in front of a fan during the rests I take in between sets. After the first few days, I become acclimated. One of the great things about fasting is it allows your body to focus energy on healing other parts of the system. This includes repairing muscle fibers which in turn does make you stronger. Of course, you can always just take extra rest days if you want. But because I am addicted to weightlifting and I compete, I still try to maintain some routine.
Here are some guidelines I use for diet and weightlifting. Brent Wenson, a trainer at my gym, Crossfit Atlanta, has given me advice on this.
(Update 7/4: Its a little tough with the Olympic Lifts, I have to breathe more and really focus, but my coach Travis Cooper, pointed out that my system is still hesitant to let go of energy, once it knows I am still getting my nutrients, just at different times of the day, I will be back on track)
Ramadan Diet & Training
I workout in the evenings, and this year, it is going to be before iftar time or sunset (as it was last year). I go home and for iftar, I eat dates and drink water. After Maghrib prayers, I will have a protein powder shake that contains BCAA’s (most decent ones do, I use Jarrow formula unflavored).
Muscle glycogen needs to be replenished since one will not have a full day of eating. How much will depend on activity, like long endurance, to short metabolic conditioning, to weightlifting. Post workout your muscle cell receptors are more open and can more easily refill. One of the wisdom of eating dates is it’s a healthy way of getting your carb needs very quickly. Then the protein shake gives you the protein and BCAA you need after a workout and helps avoid any muscle catabolism. If you have to workout earlier in the day, that should be OK too but I find it easier the closer to Iftar time. Some prefer to workout after Iftar but I do not like to have a full stomach when I workout, and these days, sunset and prayers are pretty late, so I do not choose to workout after Iftar. You can experiment and see what works for you.
My stomach usually gets full pretty quickly when having iftar, so I do not try to eat a lot of food at once. I give my digestion system some time to get used to having food intake. From iftar to the time I sleep, especially right before sleeping, I will make sure to have protein and fat. The whole time from iftar to when I sleep, I continue to drink water. It is hard for me to gulp a large quantity at once, so I try to continually drink smaller portions. Closer to sleep, I try to drink less so that my sleep will not be negatively impacted. Additionally, I will keep a small water bottle on my nightstand so I have the option of drinking water if I wake up.
For the Suhoor, pre dawn meal, I will have mainly protein and fat (very little carbs, exception are vegetables). Protein and fat keep you satiated. Your body will use fat as the energy source, as opposed to carbs which are quick to digest. Carbs also make you feel hungry and crave more food. It is hard for me to get up and eat before sunrise, but the fat is more calorie dense and quicker to eat, so one does not have to eat as much. Again, I will try to drink as much water as I can while awake for suhoor.
It is true that many people actually gain weight during Ramadan, which mostly has to do with the type and quantity of food people consume for iftar and dinner. But it is not because the late timing of the meal is the culprit .
The strongest argument against this is the numerous studies available on body composition and health after and during Ramadan fasting. This meal pattern of regular nightly feasts has a neutral or positive effect on body fat percentage and other health parameters .
People who engage in late night eating, such as snacking in front of the TV, are likely to weigh more than others. It’s not the fact that they are eating later in the day that causes weight gain, it’s their lifestyle .
If you want to read further or get some different opinions with regards to diet, I have included some links below. I hope this will help you get the most out of your Ramadan. Please make du’a for those who are having a hard Ramadan this year.
 Berkhan, Martin. (2010, November 4) Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked. [Online] Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.leangains.com/2010/10/top-ten-fasting-myths-debunked.html
 Roky R, Houti I, Moussamih S, Qotbi S, Aadil N. (September 24, 2004) Physiological and chronobiological changes during Ramadan intermittent fasting. In Ann Nutr Metab. 2004;48(4):296-303. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15452402
 Ben Salem L, Bchir S, Bouguerra R, Ben Slama C. (9-11/2003) Cortisol rhythm during the month of Ramadan. In East Mediterr Health J. 2003 Sep-Nov;9(5-6):1093-8. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16450542
 Bouhlel E, Denguezli M, Zaouali M, Tabka Z, Shephard RJ. (December 2008) Ramadan fastings effect on plasma leptin, adiponectin concentrations, and body composition in trained young men. In Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Dec;18(6):617-27. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19164831
 Chaouachi A, Leiper JB, Souissi N, Coutts AJ, Chamari K. (December 2009) Effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on sports performance and training: a review. In Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2009 Dec;4(4):419-34. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20029094
 Aziz AR, Wahid MF, Png W, Jesuvadian CV. (June 2010) Effects of Ramadan fasting on 60 min of endurance running performance in moderately trained men. In Br J Sports Med. 2010 Jun;44(7):516-21. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20519256
 Chaouachi A, Coutts AJ, Chamari K, Wong del P, Chaouachi M, Chtara M, Roky R, Amri M. (December 2009) Effect of Ramadan intermittent fasting on aerobic and anaerobic performance and perception of fatigue in male elite judo athletes. In J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Dec;23(9):2702-9. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19910805
 Al-Hourani HM, Atoum MF. (October 2007) Body composition, nutrient intake and physical activity patterns in young women during Ramadan. In Singapore Med J. 2007 Oct;48(10):906-10. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17909674
Other links specific to Ramadan and working out: (I don’t follow their theories on diet but not all diets are for everyone, so I am including them)
General guides on fasting: