RAMADHAN TRAINING PROTOCOLS
And so the month of Ramadan begins, a month of minimalism, mindfulness and sacrifice. With strict eating and prayer windows to adhere to, it can be overwhelming to work out where one should put their day’s training to ensure no physical progress is lost in the process. This year though, we’re almost lucky. Without a commute to worry about and with home-training the only exercise option, it becomes much easier to find the time to sneak training in at what would usually be awkward hours.
As with our Nutrition On Lockdown article, we’ve decided the best way to provide this information is in the form of example options, for you to read and decide which suits you best. How you eat at each of the meal times is affected by the proximity to training and sleep, so we’ve also given vague indications of which macronutrients should be prioritised at these times.
In this article, we’ve saved our favourite option for last and expanded upon that into even finer detail. However, if it doesn’t suit you, there are probably some thought processes that you could easily carry over into the other options.
We’re aware there are also other prayer times that are practised by some, however, it is very difficult to plan individually on such matters. They will always come with a compromise on sleep, and limiting this is a matter of personalisation that we will leave up to the individual. And if you’re someone who fasts but doesn’t take part in the terawih prayers? You’ll find our recommendation in Option 2.
Option 1: The Parched Lifter
Best For: Sleepyheads
Train before Iftar, ready to break fast
Sahur: Protein, fats, fibre
Iftar: Protein, carbs
After Prayer Meal: None/Slow carbs
Pros: You get training out of the way before all prayers and eating. This leaves plenty of time between prayers ending by around 9:30 p.m. and rising at 05:15 a.m. for Sahur. Very close to a full 8-hours sleep, at what many scientists will say is our ideal circadian rhythm. It is the most time efficient option which allows you to get the most amount of sleep.
Cons: You may feel dehydrated during training, and experience low energy levels at the end of the day’s fast. Training could be compromised, with up to a 30% reduction in expected performance.
Option 2: Training before Tradition
Best For: Evening lifters / those not praying
Warmup 15 minutes before Iftar, train during Iftar. Eat during/after prayers.
Sahur: Protein, fats, fibre
Iftar: Sugar, protein shake
After Prayer Meal: Protein, complex carbs
Pros: You can drink water whilst training and focus on using this time as well as consuming a fuel-providing intraworkout. Whilst not ideal for the digestive system, the supply of sugars using an effective carb-drink (such as Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin) or even eating a date or two between sets alongside a very small portion of protein would particularly improve strength performance. If training is more cardio-focused and involves a lot of time at HR-max then only a small amount of sugar and no protein is required.
Cons: You don't eat a full meal during Iftar with the fam. You have to eat close to bedtime, which may affect sleep.
As mentioned, this is when we recommend those who are fasting, but not taking part in terawih prayers, should train. They can probably afford to leave their warm-up a little bit later as there is no rush to be done with training by prayer time, and give themselves enough time to get some water and pre-workout nutrition onboard for optimal performance. They can then eat once they’ve cooled/calmed down and get to bed.
PLEASE NOTE: The recommendation of pre/intraworkout sugars is only for those who require them for performance. If you have low body fat and are concerned with strength & muscle-building then you need to provide your body with immediately accessible energy. If you have plenty of fat stored already, let your body use that, and force it to adapt to using fat-burning pathways for your workout. If you’re overweight this is probably something it hasn’t had to do in a while anyway.
Option 3: Muslim Mark Wahlberg
Best For: The highly motivated
Train before Sahur, Eat Sahur as usual. Bed straight after evening prayers.
Sahur: Protein, carbs, fats
Iftar: Protein, carbs, fats
After Prayer Meal: None. Pillow!
Pros: Fully fuelled training sessions and days. Balanced meals in the mornings and evenings. Good gap between eating and sleeping in the evening with prayers as the perfect wind-down.
Cons: Very early start to wake up for, probably earlier than anyone else in the household so could also be a disturbance. A temptation to sleep in if not very driven and requires a strict adherence to get to bed immediately after prayers.
Option 4: Filled to the brim
Best For: Balancing Schedule & Performance
Train during Sahur. Calorie consumption during evenings before and after prayers.
Sahur: Sugars (if required for performance), Protein Shake
Iftar: Protein, Carbs, Fats
After Prayer Meal: Protein, Carbs, Fats
Pros: Training completed in the morning, with full energy and glycogen stores from dinner the previous evening. Able to consume water during training and use this time to focus on hydration after being asleep and for the day ahead. A relaxed evening of food prep, eating and prayers ahead. Also very easy to throw in days where you don’t train and increase Sahur calories, or consume no calories during Sahur training and hit a 24-hr food fast between Iftars.
Cons: Calorie consumption very focused on a 2-hr window in the evening, so tricky for those with many calories to consume to maintain mass. Also could easily result in binging for those with poor diet control.
With lockdown meaning we don’t need to worry about getting to the gym or it being closed at such an early hour, this is our favourite schedule! As a result, we’ve expanded on our proposed weekly schedule so you can get an idea for how to plan it.
Morning 1 - Resistance work & shake
Morning 2 - Short yoga session and small sahur
Morning 3 - Resistance work & shake
Morning 4 - Recovery and normal sahur
Morning 5 - Fasted light cardio, no food
Morning 6 - Resistance work and shake
Morning 7 - Recovery and normal sahur
Considerations: What we like about this structure is that every mealtime is not an attempt to both rehydrate and restore calories at the same time. If one’s stomach was left full of water when attempting to digest food, the key ingredient for this process (Hydrochloric Acid) would be heavily diluted and the digestive system nowhere near as effective. As a result, the body has to modulate the effect of water in the digestive system and this takes energy away from the key task at hand which is food processing.. If we can focus more onboarding of water in the periods right before and after sleep, and prioritise food consumption at Iftar (without training in the evening and leading to even more dramatically increased thirst upon breaking fast) this is ideal for optimal assimilation of nutrients.
Whilst dry-fasting between sahur and iftar is an incredible test of will power, it doesn’t achieve the health benefits targeted by Intermittent Fasting protocols. The refeed takes place after 13hrs which is too soon for the body to have spent a considerable amount of time with an empty stomach for the restorative process to take place, or really suffered glycogen depletion to the point where gluconeogenesis is being forced and the body has to use fat stores for energy. Inserting a 24-hr fast into the week, with a food-less, well-hydrated cardio session involved, heightens the effect of this in a low insulin state. If steady-state jogging, cycling or rowing isn’t an option on lockdown, a full-body routine taking low-impact bodyweight movements, cycling through body parts and not flirting with the tax of failure proximity is an ample solution.
Before even considering this, please be sure to read the first article of our series on Intermittent Fasting, 1 - Should I Try It? We’d also highly recommend taking consult from one of our qualified nutritionists if you’re unsure as to whether it is a suitable decision for you to be making.
You’ll also get benefit from exploring the other articles on this topic if you really wish to go down this route appropriately informed. In weeks 1 & 2, one could implement a 22-hr fast by eating after prayers in the evening and thus only IF Fasting from 21:30-19:30 the following day. However, if they feel comfortable doing so in week’s 3 & 4, they can increase this to a 24-hr fast by only eating before prayers and fasting from 20:00-19:30 the following day.
And that's all folks! We really hope this helps provide some guidance during a time that is meant to provide a test. View it as an obstacle to overcome, with the goal being more maintenance-focused, ready to go back to making progress once normality resumes. Good luck!