Your body goes through a number of changes during Ramadan when you’re fasting, owing to the adjustment in sleep patterns, fluid intake, modifications in what and when you eat, as well as altering the timings of your exercise schedule and indeed the type of exercise you can among to do. All of these changes can lead to a loss of lean muscle mass.
Maintaining and indeed increasing lean muscle requires following a careful diet and weight training plan, something that is difficult to keep up during weeks of fasting.
But all is not lost. We’ve asked some of the UAE’s leading personal trainers and nutrition experts (all of whom fast during Ramadan themselves) for their tips and tricks on how to hold on to your gains.
Protein and resistance training
personal coach, lifestyle consultant and co-founder of Lead Right Sports
Muscle atrophy, aka muscle loss, is likely to happen during fasting in Ramadan. However, fasting can increase something called human growth hormone, which is related to building muscle tissues. The best way to build muscle mass is progressive resistance training (PRT) and staying consistent. A program should gradually increase your workout volume through weights, reps, tempo and sets. Building muscle is not all about strength. Don’t forget muscle power, so add some explosive movements to your program too. I would personally do a short HIIT-style training or a restorative style training right before breaking my fast and then a harder resistance style training afterwards.
Top tip: protein
Protein is king. Try to keep to 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight. Eating a rich meal of protein at Suhoor is a must. If supplementing at this meal, try using a protein that is slow-releasing, such as casein, to maximize muscle growth and improve recovery.
Consuming a drink or meal with a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of about three/four-to-one within 30 minutes after your workout will further help with muscle growth.
Effort and intensity
project manager and freelance personal trainer who specializes in strength and conditioning
To keep the muscle mass you spent years of training to acquire, you need to still give your body the stimulus it needs to maintain that muscle. Effort and intensity is key in sending signals to the body to say that this muscle mass is still required – so you’re less likely to lose it. I do this mostly through hypertrophy (high rep) training and concentrating on really high-quality protein post workout. I don’t like having protein shakes so I opt for red meats, veggies and organ meats. Salmon and chicken are also good options.
Top tip: sleep
Sleep! And this is really challenging for a lot of people during Ramadan, which is a very social month. But you can’t ignore the importance of sleep. Get quality sleep and you’ll support muscle building functions in the body and be in a better cognitive state to make the best food and training decisions.
Stay hydrated, avoid sugar
co-founder of Strike personal training, boxing and fitness
During Ramadan, I focus on maintaining muscle through low-intensity activities. I start with low intensity/steady cardio before breaking the fast, then I’ll have a light meal then move on to weights.
I tend to reduce going to the gym to three or four times a week instead of the usual five or six, and I concentrate on maintenance rather than going heavy or doing high-intensity workouts. I keep myself hydrated pre, during and post workout, followed by a high carb, high protein meal.
Top tip: stay hydrated
Stay hydrated and don’t be afraid of good carbs, but make sure to avoid high-sodium foods, refined sugars – and bread. Ramadan is also a good opportunity to learn to switch to intermittent fasting. I would usually stop eating around 12am, with my last meal followed by casein protein and then fast until the following evening.
Nutrients and wholesome foods
personal trainer and sports massage therapist at Athletic Body Shape in Dubai
Ideally, if you are strength training, I would suggest having a meal first and then train. If you’re doing cardio or HIIT, I would do that while still fasting and then have the meal afterwards.
Make sure you’re getting in sufficient protein, as protein is the building blocks for muscle, and add complex carbs such as oats, sweet potato, quinoa, beans and rice as they are great for slow-releasing energy. Aim for a minimum of two litres of water, especially when breaking fast. This is super-important as it is crucial in building and developing strong muscles. Continue to eat healthily during Ramadan with plenty of nutrients and wholesome foods.
Top tip: focus on resistance
Concentrate on resistance training. Bodyweight training can be just as effective if done correctly and with intensity. This is important in the current situation with a lot of people at home without much equipment.
Organize your meals
ex-military trainer, head fitness coach of the UAE National Swimming Team, co-founder of Yari Camp; founder of FBCDXB bootcamp
Reduce the intensity of your workout during Ramadan and focus on the quality of your reps and sets. I would highly recommend three meals that are organized as follows: Iftar meal is protein, carb and salads, another meal at 11pm, which again is protein, carb and salad, and a final meal at 3:30am where you remove the carbs.
And don’t forget fluid intake during non-fasting hours. It helps keeping the body in the right condition to function properly, as does getting enough sleep.
Top tip: split your days
Split your days, so you do a cardio workout right before Iftar on one or two days and then have two or three days of the week where you weight train after Iftar. And enjoy this month as a muscle maintaining month rather than aiming for gains.
Fuel your body
co-owner of Chapters Fitness & Soul, personal trainer, integrative nutrition health coach and pre and postnatal exercise specialist
In order to maintain muscle you need to maintain your level of fitness and fuel your body with enough calories and a good amount of healthy protein. To minimize muscle loss, focus on resistance training and work out after breaking your fast or even work out early in the morning before Suhoor. When you break your fast with dates, try adding some nuts or nut butter for added protein and to balance out your sugar intake. Coconut water is a great fluid option as it includes electrolytes and may help rehydrate you better than water after exercise.
Top tip: resistance over cardio
Focus on resistance training versus cardio and support muscle growth and repair through proper nutrition and hydration. For your Suhoor meal, try to include slow digesting carbs that can keep you fuller for longer. Oatmeal is a fantastic option.
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.