It can be a tough time to keep to a diet plan whether it is weight loss or muscle building. The advice below applies to Ramadan and also to more time restricted feeding on a daytime eating schedule like 20:4 - where you fast for 20 hours and feed for 4 hours. Of course outside of religious reasons time restricted feeders can hydrate as normal during their fasting window.
For those of you who don’t know what’s involved with Ramadan, Ramadan is a month long dawn to dusk fast observed as part of the Muslim religion. This year it starts on Thursday 23rd April and finishes on the 23rd May.
During the daylight hours which at moment this year starts at 5.51am in the morning and ends at 8.06pm at night, you do not drink any liquid (not even water) and you don’t eat any food. The origins of Ramadan are for increased spirituality and as a time to practice self restraint. Christians have a similar tradition with Lent where they are encouraged to give up something for 6 weeks.
As an exercise, restricting yourself from not eating for a period of time is a good one to go through, whether you are Muslim or not, it can help give you confidence that you can cope with hunger and stick to a plan and not give into any cravings you may have. If you are a Muslim and can go without food and drink for this length of time then you should have added confidence that you can stick to any diet plan at any time of the year.
A great review of the various forms of religious fasting can be found here. My take and advice I’ve given to many individuals and athletes can be found below.
A key element of making the fast successful as with any successful dieting practice is to maintain sufficient protein intake whilst maintaining a deficit in calories, it really is that simple.
Over the years I have worked with many high profile Muslim athletes. Premier League footballers who have and will be observing Ramadan in its entirety. In the past Olympic rower Moe Shibi had to make other arrangements when he tried following Ramadan fully in the past his weight dropped by as much as 16 lbs in a day. He’s a large unit to begin with at over 100kg, even so it does take a rocket scientist to work out you are not going to be able to perform at your best with that level of dehydration. Other athletes can ask to be exempt from the fluids restrictions during the daytime in return for fasting longer or at another time during the year.
Let’s look at 2 scenarios for Ramadan
The person wanting to lose fat and those wanting to gain muscle.
Weight Loss During Ramadan
On the face of it being on a fast you have a real opportunity to lose weight and get ripped if you really want to. However depending on your background and family situation you might be confronted with a lot of treat like foods when you break your fast. You need to have a mental as well as physical strategy of how you are going to deal with this, otherwise you could end up in trouble overeating. This is an opportune time to have a chat with a diet coach who can help you develop a strategy that can work for you if you have problems sticking to a plan.
The obvious thought process is that:
‘I’ve been good all day I’ve stuck to the fast I can eat whatever I want can’t I?’
Not really, you always need to keep an eye on how many calories you consume if you want to lose weight. So let’s assume you have free will over what you eat, and your auntie is not going to force feed you samosas, sweet drinks and biryani.
What ideally are you going to eat and drink?
Key concept is for fat loss during Ramadan try to not exceed your BMR in calories. You can work that out here. For someone of about 85kg this is about 1800 calories. If you weigh 50kg then it’s going to be closer to 1200-1300 calories depending on which equation you use. To be honest it’s easier to under eat because of the time restrictions for the feeding window but you still need to follow some realistic concepts;
Think Hydration First
As soon as you break your fast, concentrate on getting rehydrated first. You are going to be thirstier than you are hungry and hunger often disguises itself as thirst. By rehydrating first you are helping to prevent yourself from overeating. Don’t drink water just by itself, it’s quite hard to try and drink a lot of plain water no matter how thirsty you are. As a minimum add some salt to it or get yourself some hydration tablets like High 5 Zero or Elete that endurance athletes use, you can add them to your water and it provides the correct salts and minerals to help you rehydrate and also helps you drink more. You can add some lemon juice to give the salt water some flavour.
Another option to rehydrate is to have a protein shake, don’t add any extra carbs like fruit or the extras like cottage cheese and yoghurt as you may end up feeling full as a result of the shake, just mix whey with water. Make it quite dilute around 400ml of water to 1 scoop of whey or plant based protein (25g).
Alternatively instead of a protein shake you could have an amino acid mix like R5 Amino Acids or Metabolic Amino Complex as soon as you break your fast, this will help you get protein into your muscle cells as well as help with hydration, focus and getting into the essential workout before you begin feeding.
Food to eat to break your Ramadan Fast
Once you have rehydrated then it’s time to think either training (if fat loss is your goal) or food. Traditionally there may be a lot of lamb to eat during Ramadan. Lamb can be quite a fatty meat so if you are going to have this then make sure what you have with it does not have too much additional fat. If possible the best options are to have chicken and fish. You can have chicken and fish in a curry if that is available, it’s better to have it grilled. Eat it with the low carb vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower that are recommended in Four Week Fat Loss.
You can eat a slightly larger meal but you don’t really need to. You may think ‘I need to overeat to help me get through the whole day without eating’. If you want to lose weight then what is the point of that you want to utilise your excess fat stores to fuel yourself through the day. If you overeat too much at night you could end up creating more fat that you then burn off during the rest of the day to get back to the same starting point. You are going to need to protect your muscle mass so ensure the extra consumption comes from more protein. Key thing is to eat plenty of protein and vegetables at this time to nourish yourself and protect your muscle mass.
There are 2 supplements that can help when you are overfeeding (having more food in one sitting than you might be used to they are CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and Cissus Quadrangulis these help by causing more of the food to be stored in muscle rather than fat and maybe beneficial during Ramadan.
Another supplement that may help with fat metabolism and be of benefit during Ramadan is l-carnitine tartrate. Take 2-3 grams before you eat anything, this can help by getting fat metabolism moving. Ideally at times other than Ramadan you would take this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, but during Ramadan we are taking it in the evening to enhance uptake by having it with a meal. You can try another serving in the morning of 2g with your morning feed too – see how you get along with that.
Once you have eaten after sunset, then you will either want to sleep, or maybe socialise. Some people socialise and then sleep a lot during the day.
What to eat before daybreak
You have a second feeding opportunity before your daily fast starts this year in the UK the times vary but start around 5.15am in the morning, so you’ll need to get up early before daybreak and have something to eat and drink then either stay up or go back to sleep.
Again it is important to hydrate yourself fully as you are going to be going all day without a drink so I would make sure that you have a protein drink, this kills 2 birds with one stone as you get hydration as well as nutrition. A good option to eat is a chicken and spinach omelette, you could make this the evening before and have it ready to eat when you wake up. Eggs are a good option to have as they help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Exercise and training for fat loss during Ramadan
If you are involved in sport or want to exercise then you may have to reign in your intensity during Ramadan particularly if the weather is hot as it has been recently. As you will already be de-hydrated by not drinking since sun rise, this could affect you especially if you exercise too hard you are likely to become more dehydrated which could result in dizziness and light headedness and lead to passing out. If you are going to do this train with someone or tell the trainer at the gym that it is Ramadan and you may be de-hydrated. Be sensible and listen to your body and stop at the first signs of any different sensations.
For some athletes they can make a deal with their religious leader and some of them allow water in return for a longer fast or another fast later in the year.
You have a few alternatives as to the time that you train at.
1. Train before you break your fast – this is hard and you need to be careful
2. Train just after you break your fast after re-hydrating (preferred option)
3. Train whilst rehydrating and taking aminos and protein, basically refuel and rehydrate, whilst training – good for weights and give more feeding / sleeping time afterwards
3. Train when you have woken up the following morning. This is hardest cause you cannot replenish afterward. Also it’s early so you will be tired. Again you can wake earlier and refuel and rehydrate during the session. This works well, also if you can sleep afterwards or later in the day.
During the period the evenings will get later and the sun will rise earlier, you can adjust all your timings as necessary...
If you are going to train before you break your fast then try to coincide the end of your session with the breaking of your fast. So if the fast ends at 9.15 then train between 8.15 and 9.15pm, you can obviously do shorter sessions if you like so adjust the timings. You should really take medical advice on this if you have not trained through Ramadan before.
It’s more beneficial to train closer to breaking the fast rather than at lunch time or 5 o’clock because you are then able to get food into your system that much quicker after training to start the recovery process and you will be dehydrated for a shorter period of time during the day.
Have a snooze after work – great idea!
If possible a good strategy to employ is to have an early evening sleep from when you finish work until you are ready to train. This will help you produce more growth hormone which will aid both fat loss and muscle gain, it will also help take your mind off not being able to eat or drink anything.
When it comes to training for fat loss start with more gentle forms of training like treadmill, bike, rowing machine rather than high intensity intervals, to begin with at least, if you find you can handle the higher intensity then by all means do it but just be careful you don’t dehydrate too much. Doing the higher intensity stuff is better to hydrate first for sure.
If you are not used to exercising it’s best to start this slowly and always consult your medical practitioner before embarking on this or any other exercise programme.
When it comes to losing fat if you manage yourself properly particularly eating well then you could get really ripped during Ramadan.
17.30 pm sleep
19.15 pm train
Sundown: pm rehydrate (water, salts)
21.20 pm protein shake (CLA, Cissus, l-carnitine tartrate)
21.25 pm chicken and fish with vegetables (big portion)
17.30 pm Sleep
Sundown Break fast rehydrate (water salts)
21.00 Small Protein Shake
21.15 Train up to an hour 15 minutes
22.30 (CLA, Cissus, l-carnitine tartrate)
22.35 Eat meal
Sleep – times will vary when it’s ok to eat before the dawn….
2.30am wake up
2.35am protein shake
2.40am chicken and spinach omelette
2.45 Any additional fluids – keep hydrating until you have to begin fasting again
Try and go back to sleep for a while then.
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Gaining Lean Mass During Ramadan
It can be hard to make any significant gains during Ramadan, it’s not impossible to add mass but as long as you don’t go backwards then you will be in a decent position coming out of Ramadan. There are some different approaches you may want to take, you could look at the month as an opportunity to lean up a bit if you need to, you could focus on developing your strength so you will be stronger and be able to lift heavier weights and create a bigger training stimulus after Ramadan. Ramadan can be a time where you can sensitise yourself to the effect of insulin so that when you really bring carbs back into your diet after Ramadan you could get some spectacular gains.
One supplement that is beneficial during Ramadan is creatine it has well known anti-catabolic effects as well as being anti-fatiguing. If you are serious about adding bulk then you will probably already be using creatine, continue to do so during Ramadan.
A slightly different approach to gain mass during Ramadan is required than we do for losing weight for both eating and training, the important thing is that you need to cram in the amount of calories/food you normally eat during the course of the day into the 6 hour window between dusk to dawn.
Some people also like HMB. I still think there’s enough evidence to support using HMB during these types of fasting situation. You can get all these in a complex such as my power loader.
Eating on your training days during Ramadan
The decision you need to make regarding when you train is are you going to train while still fasting or break your fast have something to eat and drink and then train. Both strategies have their merits. Ideally though from a performance point of view it would be better to rehydrate and have some whey and carbs before you train.
17.30 pm sleep
19.15 pm train – note you can start training and feeding at the same time if it’s near the breaking fast time…..
Sun down: rehydrate (water, salts)
21.20 pm protein + carb shake (CLA, Cissus, l-carnitine tartrate)
21.25 pm chicken and fish with vegetables (big portion) load of starches to make sure you hit calorie requirements.
17.30 pm Sleep
Sun down: Break fast rehydrate (water salts)
21.00 Small Protein + carb Shake
21.15 Train up to an hour 15 minutes
22.30 (CLA, Cissus, l-carnitine tartrate)
22.35 Eat meal as above.
2.30am wake up
2.35am protein + carb shake
2.40am chicken and spinach omelette, plus sweet potatoes
2.45 Any additional fluids – keep hydrating until you have to begin fasting again, take salts and electrolytes to help maintain fluid balance
If you’ve got any questions about this then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow your normal body building routines.
The major factor that is going to prevent muscle break down during Ramadan is to make sure you hit your target for protein consumption and overall calorie intake, in 1 Month Muscle we recommend 2g/Kg of protein so if you are 80 kg that means you need 160 g of protein. Look at the labels on the food you eat to ensure you are hitting the correct levels. You also need to take care of your carbohydrate levels to ensure that your total calories are up to an adequate level.
What to eat
The primary strategy to be aware of here is that not only do you hit your protein goal, is that you moderate the levels of fat you are consuming, so avoid anything deep fried or any curries that maybe swimming with fat. Go for rice and lentils and vegetables with chicken or fish.
Depending what time you go to sleep you might be able to fit in another meal at around 11.30 pm or at least get a whey protein shake in with added cottage cheese before you hit the pillow. Cottage Cheese is high in casein and will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Choose a whey or plant based protein with no added sugars at this time.
On Non-Training Days to build mass
Break your fast with a protein smoothie, use plain whey and add cottage cheese and some fruits, make it quite runny so you can drink it down, you can use either milk or water to make the shake.
On non training days we want to avoid the sugars in the mass building whey protein drink you may be using.
Before Starting your Fast when wanting to build mass
As with weight loss have a big protein shake (plain whey and added extras) to help with hydration and also have a protein based meal like a chicken omelette you can have some extra carbs with it in the form of beans, chick peas or vegetables like butternut squash and a portion of cottage cheese.