The Ramadan Nutrition and Workout Plan for Success

August 26, 2008

By: Rehan Jalali
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is how can I workout and
eat properly while I am fasting? Most people see the blessed month of
Ramadhan as a time when they will surely lose strength and or muscle mass
and some people think they can only “maintain” during this month. This
cannot be further from the truth. In fact, if you use some of the strategies I
am about to share with you, you can make some of your best gains during
this month! It’s all about maximizing nutrient uptake, maintaining proper
hydration, and modifying key fat burning/muscle building hormones in your
favor during this month.
First of all, let’s look at what happens to your body during Ramadhan.
While you are fasting, obviously you become more dehydrated at rest–but
actually less than if you had exercised aerobically for over an hour (so
exercise causes greater dehydration for that time period versus fasting).
Your main metabolic fuel source for bodily function during fasting is mainly
fat, which is a good thing. There is a great advantage fasting when the days
are shorter as more meals can be eaten during the night. So the goals during
Ramadhan are to maximize metabolism (even though your metabolism will
slow down due to less frequent meals), preserve and enhance as much lean
muscle mass as possible (which will inherently increase metabolic rate and
allow you to burn more calories at rest), and maximize your workout (both
cardio and weight training). During Ramadhan, depending on your goals, I
really recommend that you limit cardio to 2 days a week at the most. This is
again to preserve as much lean muscle tissue as possible. There is actually
research showing the health benefits of fasting. It is truly a physical
purification.
Training Times
Ok, enough of the background, let’s get to the meat of it! I am going to set
the record straight here. The best time to do a weight training workout is
NOT while fasting. This can create way too much muscle breakdown and
cause a significant rise in the catabolic hormone cortisol. Training while in
a state of dehydration can decrease strength significantly. In fact, research
indicates that dehydrating a muscle by as little as 3% can cause a 12% loss
in strength. Training while you are fasting can actually be more
detrimental than beneficial! The best time to weight train during
Ramadhan is after Taraweh prayers at night. This will insure that you will
have several meals and plenty of water in your system before going to the
gym. This will also allow you to consume your all-important post workout
meal or shake which is essential to muscle growth and even fat loss. If this
is too late then the next best time to weight train is about 1 hour after Iftar
before taraweh prayer. The best time to do cardio work for maximum fat
loss is before suhur—yep that’s the truth. Of course, most people I know
will not want to get up at around 3: 30 AM and do cardio! If you CAN pull
this off then the best thing to do is get up and drink plenty of water with a
cup of coffee or green tea, wait 30 minutes and perform 30-45 minutes of
moderate intensity cardio work like a brisk walk on a treadmill. If this is out
of the question for you, then the next best time to do cardio is approximately
30-45 minutes after a “light” iftar (I will define this shortly).
So now you know when to train, it’s time to learn what to eat and drink
(think water, water, and more water!).
Suhur meal (morning/pre-dawn)
For suhur, it is imperitive to drink plenty of water, eat a good blend of
protein, carbohydrates, and essential fat—that’s right “good fats” have many
fat burning and muscle building properties and their importance is even
greater during Ramadhan. Some good “suhur” foods include:
Egg whites (1 yolk)
Chicken breast
Oatmeal
Cream of wheat
Protein shake
Cinnamon
Bananas
Raw, Dark Honey
Raisins or dates
Fibrous vegetables –This will help increase the feeling of fullness as well.
All natural peanut butter
Flax seed oil
Olive oil – preferably extra virgin (which means it’s cold processed and the
essential fatty acids are preserved)
Plenty of water
It is important to take a solid Multi-Vitamin/ multi-mineral supplement with
suhur as well to make sure daily minimum requirements of key nutrients are
met. One good one is Opti-Pack by Super Nutrition. Taking extra vitamin C
and vitamin E can also be helpful. It is very important to watch your sodium
intake at this time as high sodium can cause greater dehydration plus
increase thirst during the day—not good for fasters. Avoid high sodium
foods like soups, sauces, condiments, gravies, high sodium bread
products, and canned meats.
Iftar meal
This is a key time for rehydration. The wisdom in Islam is never ending.
We break our fast with dates and water but if you investigate this
nutritionally, you will see that dates are very unique in their nutrient content.
They contain very high levels of potassium, a key re-hydration mineral and a
special carbohydrate blend that enhance hydration above and beyond water
alone. So basically when you eat a date and water for iftar your body gets
hydrated again much faster than with water alone (this is a complex topic but
I don’t want to bore you with the details—You can think of dates and water
as a very advanced form of Gatorade®). You should also eat some quality
protein at this time as well. I recommend three dates and a meal
replacement protein powder like ZI Diet MRP from VPX Sports, Lean Body
by Labrada, or Myoplex from EAS. Of course, drink plenty of water. Then
1- 1.5 hours later have a food meal (or follow the schedule above for cardio).
Then during taraweh, depending if you pray 8 or 20 rakahs, have a protein
bar in the middle (not while you are praying of course!) or have another
small protein and complex carbohydrate meal after the 8 rakahs—drink
plenty of water if you have a protein bar. Then go train about 30-45 minutes
after eating the bar. After the workout, have another nutrition shake (as
mentioned a few lines ago) with plenty of water. Eating small meals at night
can trick your body into speeding up metabolic rate (not to mention increase
nutrient absorption and stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels). Your body
loves homeostasis and wants to maintain a certain balance—you literally
have to shock it constantly to lose fat and gain muscle over the long run!
There is so much wisdom in “Eat and drink but not to excess” and we should
try and follow that especially during Ramadhan.
SAMPLE Ramadhan MEAL PLAN for fat loss and muscle gain
(*This plan is for a 170 lb male, please adjust amounts for bodyweight)
Suhur:
Eat 6-8 egg whites (one yolk)
One bowl of plain oatmeal w/ cinammon, raisins and a banana
1 teaspoon all-natural peanut butter or olive oil or flax seed oil
Plenty of water (16-24 oz.)
Opti-pack by Super Nutrition (one pack) –multi-vitamin/mineral
Iftar (the evening opening of the fast):
Three Dates and a Nutrition Shake (ZI Diet MRP from VPX Sports, Lean
Body by Labrada, or Myoplex from EAS)
Plenty of water
For cardio wokouts –Do cardio 45 minutes after this meal for 30-45 minutes
at a moderate pace or do a sprint workout if you have less time and then
have the next meal before taraweh. (Have a cup of green tea with Iftar on
cardio days)
For weight training days: Eat another food meal before Taraweh like chicken
breast (or baked salmon), brown rice and some veggies OR
Baked Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Orange Roughy, or Mahi mahi), sweet potato,
and a garden salad or some steamed vegetables.
Drink plenty of water during taraweh–Go to the gym after taraweh. (If you
pray 20 rakahs, then have a protein bar in the middle of taraweh). Drink
plenty of water during the workout and you can even have Powerade™ or a
sports drink during the workout.
After the workout, have another Nutrition Shake –lots of water of course.
Then sleep 45 minutes later or stay up all night eating and working like I do!
Following these simple workout and nutrition tips can really help you make
great gains during this blessed month. May God help give us patience and
strength in this month and throughout the year and make us strong mentally,
internally, spiritually, and physically!

Jazaky Allahu khayran Aicha!

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7 Responses to “The Ramadan Nutrition and Workout Plan for Success”

  1. Anonymous said

    JazakAllahuKhair for the article! Does this same method apply for the sister’s as well? Are there any specific tips on what to eat or workout schedule for sisters who are not trying to bulk up as much as the brothers?

  2. Aïcha Sebaa said

    The general point of this article seems to be on presenting ways to maximize our metabolism in a time that it is bound to go down (due to decreased temporal meal distribution) by increasing our metabolic rate through the workout and meal guidelines provided. I don’t think it is meant to be a super-bulk-up regimen; rather, it’s just a way of increasing some lean muscle mass thereby speeding up that metabolism, which will in turn decrease fat deposits by burning more calories at rest.

    This goes for brothers and sisters. It is often forgotten that it is still important for women to do strength training exercises (albeit not as strenuous as men) especially to prevent against osteoporoses and strengthen connective tissues and cardiac muscle, among other benefits. If you are worried about bulking up, simply add a few more strength training steps to your workout and get a feel for it. With a weekly plan that includes both cardio and anaerobic points, most women should notice themselves getting firmer/more toned rather than actually bulking up. However, if that dos turn out to be the case, you can easily modify your workout plan accordingly (e.g. from 3 to 2 times a week or performing shorter sessions.) Everyone is different with different body types and needs. Keep things flexible and get a feel for what works for you (without making things too easy of course ;).)

    this article has some beneficial points for women:
    http://www.usnews.com/blogs/on-fitness/2008/2/8/eight-strength-training-tips-for-women.html

    mashaAllah, there’s a lot of great dietary advice, however, I am not a fan of meal-replacement-anythings. I like whole-healthy foods and I prefer to chew my nutrients into my system, especially after a day of fasting. Nonetheless, the pointers mentioned are great to keep in mind when making healthy food choices; I would definitely choose dates and water over any power drink on the market, any day :). Again, keeping things in moderation, especially in a time when our bodies will be going through the changes that come with fasting, is key. And it is not difficult to do this when we remember the sunnah and try to maximize our time to reap from the innumerable Blessings to benefit from.

  3. Anonymous said

    Jazaks… I wasn’t really worried about the strength training part, more about the nutrition like you mentioned at the end of your comment. What would be reccommended in place of the protein bars and shakes?

  4. Aïcha Sebaa said

    wa iyyaks! yeah, i think i started going off in a tangent there..

    nonetheless, you can get protein from whole foods like quality meats, fish, cottage cheese, yogurt, legumes…
    here’s a list of high protein foods: http://heartspring.net/list_of_high_protein_foods.html
    …it’ll just take longer to digest than the protein in the shakes but it may be more satisfying.

    keep in mind that lots of protein really works our detox organs (e.g. liver and kidneys.) here are some great herbs* to add to our diet:

    Liver: milk thistle, dandelion root, ginger root and turmeric.
    Kidney: parsley, cranberry juice, thyme (za`tar)
    *some of these are diuretics so it’s important to stay hydrated.

    A friend of mine recently told me that Jamaica flowers are used as kidney fortifiers in Mexico. I get mine from Stater Bros 🙂 Iced tea made from these dried flowers is great!

    I like to add lime juice to taste but the flowers give off a tangy taste nonetheless. Raw honey could be used to sweeten it.

    anyways, im going off on another tangent here. hope you got at least somewhat of an answer to your question. im sure others have some great info to add.

    ws 🙂

  5. Anonymous said

    Would you think it would be okay to start a workout plan during Ramadan, after having not done for awhile?

  6. Aïcha Sebaa said

    i think it would be a great a idea; just start things slow 'n get to know what works for you. after Ramadan, it'll be easier to build on the plan you've started. also, check out the latest post on Ramadan & Exercising 🙂

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