I train during Ramadan. Not drinking water while working out is definitely a challenge, especially in where I live in Atlanta, also known as Hotlanta.
Many think I am insane, though as the years go by, the more people know about Ramadan and the more they are fasting for non-religious reasons, the more they do not feel sorry for me.
Working out is not as bad as you may think. It is possible to make gains, if not, at least maintain weight without losing muscle. Another advantage is you can lose fat if that is one of your goals. The belief that fasting can cause all kinds of mischief such as muscle loss has no scientific basis.
I sometimes have to rest a little more in between lifting sets, and I try to make a more conscious effort of sitting in front of a fan during the rests in between sets.
After the first few days, I become acclimated. With Olympic lifts, I have to breathe more and really focus. My coach, Travis Cooper, pointed out that while my system would at first be hesitant to let go of energy, once it knows I am still getting my nutrients, just at a different time of day than usual, I would get back on track.
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 makes you stronger. Of course, you can always just take extra rest days if you want. But because I compete, I maintain a routine.
Ramadan is a time for peace and reflection. In spite of being busy and training, I give more time to reviving my faith. I like food and sometimes I overdo it. Ramadan helps me to reset my food intake and remind me that I am blessed.
I work out in the evenings. Some prefer to work out after the iftar, the meal after sunset, but I do not like to have a full stomach when I work out. Also, this year sunset is pretty late, so I am working out before the meal.
I usually do not attend the iftar at the mosque unless I take my own food, which does not go with the usual yummy iftar fare. I still like to treat myself to some traditional food. I just don’t do it every day. Part of the wisdom of eating dates is it’s a healthy way of getting your carb needs very quickly. After maghrib prayers at sunset, I will have a protein powder shake. It provides the protein you need after a workout.
My stomach usually gets full pretty quickly, and I do not try to eat a lot of food at once. Up until the time I sleep, I make sure to eat some more protein and fat and continue to drink water in small portions. I keep a bottle of water on my night stand.
For the suhoor, the predawn meal, I have mainly protein and fat and only a few carbs. The body will use fat as an energy source. Carbs, which are digested quickly, make you feel hungry. Fat is more calorie-dense, so you not have to eat as much. Again, I try to drink as much water as I can for the suhoor.
Ramadan ends Aug. 30. I have been invited by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to an Eid Al-fitr reception on Sept. 7 in Washington to celebrate the holiday that marks the completion of the month of fasting. The invitation states: “This year, Secretary Clinton is very much looking forward to honoring the contributions of Muslim American athletes and their ability to inspire young people around the world.”
Editor’s note: Last month, Kulsoom Abdullah became the first American Muslim woman to compete in the national weight lifting championships while wearing a headscarf and clothing that covered her legs and arms. On July 15, the 105-pound Pakistani-American computer engineer finished fifth out of six women in her weight class after the International Weightlifting Federation ruled that athletes could wear a full-body “unitard” under the customary weightlifting uniform.
Kulsoom Abdullah graduated from at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, received a Ph.D. in electrical/computer engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology where she is doing post-doctoral research. A version of this column was first posted on her website,http://www.liftingcovered.com.