Training through Ramadan
As we approach Ramadan, as coaches, we are always inundated with questions regarding the optimal way to set up nutrition, to continue to progress, or at least not regress our training throughout the holy month. Therefore, this post aims to raise some of the main concerns and also lay out some of the common answers I find myself giving to clients.
As with any period of change, goals must be set, and if multiple goals are present then they need to be prioritized to ensure as many as possible can be met.
For those fasting during Ramadan, the first goal, and the priority for this month is meeting the requirements of the fast. So there will be no food or water consumed between dawn and sunset. Suhoor will be eaten usually in the early hours of the morning and then breaking the fast after sunset with the Iftar meal. Food can and usually is consumed until the following days Suhoor, but sleep, socialising, praying and other tasks also need to be completed during this 8-9hr window.
So, for us involved in Strength sports, our training, usually a priority in our lives has to take a back seat for a while. But what if you have other goals to meet, such as meeting weight limits, adding muscle, dropping body fat, or meeting the strength demands of your training program.
First off, your coach for this period should be well aware that Ramadan is approaching and may or may not be adjusting your training template slightly to help, based on your previous experience with Ramadan. Most people will report losing weight or/and strength during this period, so if these go against your goals there are a few things you can do to minimise this loss.
Knowing your current setup
If you take your nutrition seriously you should know an approximate number of calories you consume, and what portion of this is made up from proteins, carbs or fats. If you don’t, it is not that likely that you will be able to go a full year without taking care, or being aware of your nutrition and then suddenly find the optimal setup during Ramadan. Providing your food is pretty consistent on a day to day basis, tracking a couple of days before you start fasting will help to see where you are.
In most cases if you consume less calories during Ramadan than you normally would you will lose weight to some degree, if this is not a goal for this period it is imperative to ensure your calorie intake is as close to normal as possible. If you somehow manage to overeat calories, due to social and plentiful Iftar meals, then you could also find yourself gaining weight. Regardless of bodyweight, if you were to consume less calories than normal, and have challenging Strength goals during the month-long period, you may struggle to hit the targets your training plan has set for you. This is another reason to make sure you understand and stay as close to your calorie consumption as possible.
Training Intensity and Frequency
I would think that of most sports involving lifting weight, Powerlifting and Olympic lifting are probably two of those that can be maintained the best whilst fasting. Whilst it is still imperative that you usually arrive at training sessions optimally fed, generally lower volume workouts, longer rest periods and well-structured training programs mean the recovery can be managed a little better. Good luck to anyone trying to do stick to a normal CrossFit routine whilst fasting.
If you are really looking to gain and add volume during Ramadan, you are going to have to really be on top of your game with nutrition, sleep and efficiency during sessions, for most people I would advise just trying to maintain your strength, a few of the suggestions below might be of use to you.
If you currently Squat or Bench 3x+ per week, you could drop 1-2 of these sessions without too much detriment to your overall goal, providing you hit a few sets at the required intensity for those sessions. In the same regard, on a session where you were programmed for 8×2 of a given lift, completing 4 of these sets, well and then getting home to eat, rest and recover will put much less demand on your body, meaning the following days training also you are in a better state for.
It is even possible for your body to adapt to the fasting throughout, so you in the above example you might complete 4 sets for the first two weeks, 6 sets for the remainder of Ramadan and then when you are back to a fully fed state you can resume with the 8 sets goal.
Most people, getting to leave work early, opt to train before Iftar, and then use Iftar as a post workout meal, replenishing your food reserves and getting in adequate nutrition to repair muscle tissue damage experienced during the workout. For all trainees, the Peri-workout window (5hrs approx. period before, during and after workout) is the optimal time to have your nutrition organised and containing 25-30% of your daily calories. At least during Ramadan if training in the evening, you don’t miss arguably the most important part of this window, the post workout meal. This meal should be plentiful of carbs and proteins in line with your goals.
If you end up training early in the day well before sunrise, if you can get a post workout meal in as your Suhoor then you could be ok also, but depending on your schedule you may be sacrificing sleep with this setup. I would definitely avoid training at a time where you can’t eat within 90mins of the training session.
Don’t worry too much about training on an empty stomach or such, if you have had adequate nutrition following your previous workout, you should in most cases have the nutrients in your system to get you through the session. Once you get into the gym and see other around you working hard, you can step up to the plate and finish your training session. If you are ever at the point where you feel really weak and you aren’t training optimally, don’t be afraid to listen to your body, cut that session short, rest and recover and come back the following day. In the grand scheme of things, the odd interruption to a training plan doesn’t have to make or break it, but if this is happening often during Ramadan, speak to one of our coaches who can look over your program and drop a few words of advice your way.
Whilst most people get pre-occupied with the food fast, the lack of fluids is one of the toughest parts to deal with. In the heat of a Dubai summer, and for someone training 5-10hrs per week, under normal circumstances it most trainees should be consuming 2.5-5litres of water per day, with females and smaller individuals obviously towards the lower end of this range. During Ramadan, getting enough fluids in your system can help to reduce many of the negative effects of fasting. Getting a bottle marked with your daily intake and keeping this with you from the moment you break fast can help you hit your targets, adding some BCAAs, creatine and electrolytes will also add nutrients to your body that you don’t want to be deprived of whilst fasting. Taper this off where possible in the evening to assist with getting unbroken sleep, the increased rate of urination will be noticeable.
Sleep as much as you can, midday naps where your work schedule allows can pass the time and give your body a little extra time to recuperate. With nutrition and hydration being challenged throughout the day, prioritise getting to bed at night and causing as little interruption to your sleep as possible. Use an alarm clock to wake up in perfect timing to ensure you meet your training and nutrition needs for the day. Sleeping over and missing an early meal for example could havoc for that days training and your mood throughout the day. All of the staff at Desert Barbell are on hand to support you during this coming month. Ramadan Kareem!