Written by Lana El Halteh
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims around the world and is a time of worship, prayer and fasting. It is considered as one of the five pillars of Islam and a Muslim would fast (no food or water) from time of sahur (meal prior to sunrise) until iftar (meal after breaking the fast). It occurs during the 9th month of the lunar calendar and this year will start from April 23rd (Kavalhuna, 2020).
Many Muslims look forward to this holy month, although it can be challenging for individuals who follow and enjoy an active lifestyle. Therefore, it is important to balance health and spirituality by tweaking your nutrition and exercise programme to minimise impact on performance, health, and overall goals. This blog post aims to provide you with useful tips to do so, safely, and healthfully.
- Exercise timing and intensity
When exercising during Ramadan, it is important to account for lower energy levels as there is no intake of food and water until iftar. Therefore, if you are exercising before breaking your fast, it is best to participate in light to moderate intensity activities such as yoga, a slow walk or jog etc and keep activities of higher intensity after iftar e.g., weightlifting and sprinting as this can be dangerous without proper fuel and hydration. Ideally, if you are engaging in physical activity before iftar, this should be 1-2 hours prior iftar to replenish nutrients and fluids immediately after. Exercising right after sahur is typically not recommended to minimise physiological stress on the body. With regards to intensity, it is better to increase exercise intensity and progress later in the month, approximately into the 2nd to last week of Ramadan (Rebaï et al., 2013).
Overall, for a healthy population it is generally recommended to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week according to WHO recommendations (WHO, 2010).
Ensure you consume sufficient calories during this month for optimal performance. Although frequency of meals is reduced, this is not an excuse to not fuel your body adequately; this can be easily achieved through careful preparations and planning of your meals. Aim to consume a varied and balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Sports supplements can be taken; however, it is advised to consult a dietician or nutritionist before intake. Active individuals should follow general nutrition guidelines per day:
- 3-5g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass
- 0.8-1.2g of protein per kg of body mass
- ~25-35% of fat of your total daily intake.
Note: Above macronutrient guidelines are for individuals who are participating in an exercise programme without any performance goal. Athletes engaging in moderate to high volume training require more carbohydrates and protein to meet their needs (Kerksick et al., 2018).
To reduce impact on performance, you should consume enough fluids to minimise loss of >2% of body mass. Aim to consume 3-4 litres of fluids between iftar and sahur to offset sweat loss during exercise. This amount may change depending on your environmental conditions and if you are a salty sweater; hot weather would require more fluid intake and electrolyte intake may be needed with greater electrolyte loss (Kerksick et al., 2018).
Sleep is fundamental regardless of if it is Ramadan or not for optimal recovery and to minimise injury risk. Sleeping patterns may be affected during Ramadan, both in quantity and quality (Maughan et al., 2010, Maughan et al., 2012). Therefore, naps during the day maybe helpful to compensate for sleep lost during the night (Romyn et al., 2018). Most importantly, listen to your body and take a break when you feel that your body needs it.
Exercising whilst fasting during Ramadan can be challenging, however with a proper plan in place in relation to nutrition, exercise, and sleep, it is possible to balance. Nonetheless, consult a doctor and a registered dietician or nutritionist if you feel unsure on how to best manage these factors during this period in a safe and healthy manner.
Kavalhuna, R. (2020) What ramadan means, Henry Ford College. Available at: https://www.hfcc.edu/news/2020/what-ramadan-means (Accessed: February 7, 2023).
Kerksick, C.M. et al. (2018) “ISSN Exercise & Sports Nutrition Review update: Research & recommendations,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y.
Maughan, R.J. et al. (2012) “Achieving optimum sports performance during ramadan: Some practical recommendations,” Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(sup1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2012.696205.
Maughan, R.J., Fallah, J. and Coyle, E.F. (2010) “The effects of fasting on metabolism and performance,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(7), pp. 490–494. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2010.072181.
Rebaï, H. et al. (2013) “Reducing resistance training volume during Ramadan improves muscle strength and power in football players,” International Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(05), pp. 432–437. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0033-1353216.
Romyn, G. et al. (2018) “Daytime Naps can be used to supplement night-time sleep in athletes,” Chronobiology International, 35(6), pp. 865–868. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2018.1466795.
WHO Global recommendations on physical activity for health (2010) National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26180873/ (Accessed: February 7, 2023).