Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community.
For the athletic community who observe Ramadan, the fasting component presents a unique challenge that makes training significantly more difficult.
During Ramadan, you must refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk for 29 or 30 days of the month of Ramadan.
To help you get the most from your training during this time, I am sharing the advice I give our athletes based on my experience working with many athletes who train during Ramadan each year.
Manage Your Expectation
During Ramadan, it’s essential to manage your expectation around training, performance and what you are trying to achieve. While it’s possible to do some significant training during Ramadan, it must be carefully planned and managed, and performance shouldn’t be your focus.
Instead, I encourage athletes to focus on the fundamentals of their sport. In our case, that’s low-intensity aerobic training, form drills and strength and mobility work. When done right, these aspects of training do not place too much stress on your body and should set you up to be consistent with your training.
Time Your Training Carefully
Because you cannot eat or drink between dawn and dusk, you have a limited timeframe in which you can train. While it is technically possible to train during the fast, I wouldn’t recommend it for most people.
Instead, plan your training around when you can eat and drink. If you plan to train in the morning, wake early, have a glass of water and do your session on an empty stomach. Training fasted like this helps to improve your innate ability to burn fat. A high-fat metabolism can help supply you with a strong and stable level of energy throughout the day and will help with your recovery from training.
If you plan to run at the break of fast, I recommend drinking a sugar-free electrolyte drink that is high in sodium. Combine that with a few dates for energy. Dates contain high levels of potassium, a key re-hydration mineral. They also include a blend of glucose and fructose for short and long term energy, making them a great, pre-session snack.
After you complete your training, eat a dinner rich in whole foods to nourish your body and prepare you for training the next day.
Fuel Your Body
When planned well, Ramadan can be an excellent opportunity to reset your metabolism, lose excess body fat and improve your energy levels. The key to this lies in your daily food choices.
Rather than gorging on high carbohydrate foods like rice and noodles at the break of fast, I encourage you to eat foods that are lower in carbohydrates and higher in healthy fats.
One gram of carbohydrate provides you with four calories of energy, while one gram of fat provides you with nine calories of energy. On top of that, carbohydrates spike your blood sugar, causing insulin to rise and your fat-burning to switch off.
Instead, aim to get the majority of your energy from vegetables and healthy fats like animal fats, eggs, coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds etc.
To ensure you are as well hydrated as possible throughout the day, you must drink enough after you break fast. What you drink also matters. Besides water, I recommend drinking herbal teas and sugar-free electrolyte drinks that are high in sodium. Sodium is known as a major hydration booster (that’s why hospitals often use a sodium solution for people who are dehydrated instead of pure water).
While Ramadan certainly presents some challenges, a little planning will go a long way, and you should come out the better for it.
Thanks to our Muslim athletes Riana, Fendy and Arif for sharing your thoughts with me as I put this post together. And to all observing this month of fasting, we wish you Ramadan Mubarak.
Photo: Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon