- Mix low- and high-intensity training to build muscle mass
- Keep at least an hour's gap between your (healthy) iftar and workout
- Start slow and build up your pace throughout Ramadan, as your body gets adjusts to the post-fasting exercise routine
If you’ve been working out intensely over the past 11 months and are worried about fasting curtailing your hard-earned gains, fear not. Whatever your preferred means of exercise, there’s no need to use Ramadan as an excuse not to keep building muscular, flexibility and cardiovascular strength.
Better Health speaks to four trainers to learn how you can keep building on your fitness foundations throughout Ramadan.
Building muscle mass requires a blend of low- and high-volume intensity training, says Julian Gavrila, Personal Trainer at Max & Aegle. This means you need to lift heavy weights over a small number of repetitions and light weights at high repetitions.
So what do you need to bear in mind for Ramadan? If you’re a regular lifter — say, three to five days a week — Gavrila recommends switching up the pace. “I would reduce the heavy training to three days a week and the other two days at a very light pace.
If you want to keep gaining muscle mass, I would mix the low-volume intensity training with high-volume, meaning lower weight and more reps because all types of muscle fibres need stimulation for them to grow.
“If you want to keep gaining muscle mass, I would mix the low-volume intensity training with high-volume, meaning lower weight and more reps because all types of muscle fibres need stimulation for them to grow. So mix one week of three days heavy compound training with a one-day break with a week of four to five days volume training.”
In terms of how long you should wait after iftar, he recommends an hour, but emphasises that your iftar should be light. For energy, Gavrila recommends dates, a glass of milk and three hard-boiled eggs. He adds that there’s no need to worry about losing muscle if you take the right steps. “Rest assured that you will not lose them if you manage to hit your macronutrients and calories target. You can even play a little, and cycle the calories intake by having more on days of training and less on off days.”
Gavrila reiterates that whey protein and other supplements are no substitute for natural sources of protein such as lean meats and lentils. “You can take all the supplements in the world and they would do nothing good without strong nutritional foundations.”
Among cardiovascular means of keeping fit, spinning — cycling on an indoor stationary cycle — is a popular option for UAE residents, thanks to it being friendly on the lower limbs and set in air-conditioned environments.
For committed spinners, fasting brings a number of challenges. The first is thirst — all the pedalling drives up the heart rate and perspiration, leaving your body crying out for water. It’s therefore unwise to go through a spinning class while fasting, says Mahmoud Abdelrazek, Personal Trainer at GymNation. “It is advisable that you attend the class at least an hour and a half after breaking your fast or the second meal post iftar. Also, try to have a small and healthy meal at iftar or before the class so that it does not become difficult for you.”
It is advisable that you attend the class at least an hour and a half after breaking your fast or the second meal post iftar.
While it’s important for a fasting person to drink plenty of water at iftar, Abdelrazek warns those planning on doing any kind of HIIT activity not to overdo it. “You can instead take a water break during your cardio session,” he says, adding that those opting to do any kind of training while fasting should keep it low intensity and that water intake at suhour should be slightly above average.
“If you like, you could also try fasting and limiting your water intake for a couple of days before Ramadan begins to get the body warmed up to working out while keeping a fast.”
We’re set to enter a warm Ramadan, and what better way to beat the heat than diving into the pool? Swimming is one of the few exercises that really does it all — a low-impact workout that builds muscle, burns fat, improves posture and boosts cardiovascular endurance. However, even accomplished swimmers need to take note of their body’s response to fasting and adjust their workout output accordingly, says Robert Richards, National Fitness and Wellness Manager at Fitness First.
Start out with a reduced volume [number of lengths] — about 50 per cent of your usual — and if you feel OK, slowly increase the intensity.
“Start out with a reduced volume [number of lengths] — about 50 per cent of your usual — and if you feel OK, slowly increase the intensity.”
When asked whether it’s better to pump out fewer lengths over a shorter period or a greater number at a more leisurely pace following a fast, Richards says there’s no set rule for this. “However, if you generally feel lower energy after fasting, it would be better to go at a slower pace for longer than push hard for a shorter time.”
If you’re interested in improving your flexibility, boosting physical strength, benefiting your breathing and batting away anxiety and stress, yoga ticks all the boxes. For committed practitioners, there are a few things to bear in mind when doing yoga after a fast.
“The good thing about yoga and Pilates is that there are so many different classes to choose from,” says Chandini Guria, a Dubai-based Vinyasa Yoga teacher. “Take it day by day — if your body is up for it, then continue with your regular schedule, and if you feel like your energy levels are dipping, either take a day off or sign up for a restorative yoga class (such as Yin or Kundalini) or a beginner’s mat Pilates class instead.”
If your body is up for it, continue with your regular schedule, and if you feel like your energy levels are dipping, either take a day off or sign up for a restorative yoga class (such as Yin or Kundalini) or a beginner’s mat Pilates class instead.
After breaking your fast, Guria says it’s important to wait at least an hour or two after a light meal before trying yoga, adding an extra hour for heavier meals. “However, if it’s a high-intensity class (ashtanga yoga, power yoga, Bikram yoga) or if you’re practising inversions (headstands, swing yoga), I would suggest waiting at least three hours after any meal.”
For some ideal pre-yoga fuel, she recommends a healthy iftar that includes complex carbs and magnesium. “Think sweet potatoes, leafy greens, brown rice, wholewheat bread, quinoa, couscous and lentils.”