Common questions that come up during Ramadan are, “When should I work out?” and “How should I eat?” For most people, the answer is “never” and “alot”, respectively. For the few who care, the resources to help answer these questions are scarce. On top of being a health issue, there's also a time management issue – for many, time will be committed to iftars and taraweeh prayers at the masjid. How can one squeeze in a decent workout when taraweeh is later in the evening, and fajr is earlier in the morning (this Ramadan being closer to the middle of summer and all), and maybe an ambitious someone will want to throw some qiyaam ul-layl in there?
The past 13 weeks, I've been on a program in which I've, alhamdulillaah, been able to develop great eating and weight-training habits, and I've lost approximately 22.2 lbs in the process, dropping from 237.8 lbs to 215.6. Life has its ups and downs, and a part of a good workout and nutrition plan is planning for when extraordinary situations arise (like vacation or Ramadan). What follows is my own Ramadan plan, which I put together along with my coach and mentor from Precision Nutrition's Lean Eating Program (which I'm a part of right now).
Suhoor Time: 4:40am
10 minutes before suhoor time ends, my meal is the following:
- 3 Scrambled Eggs fried w/Olive Oil Cooking Spray
- 2 servings fruits / veggies
- 3 servings of water
Sometimes, instead of scrambled eggs, I like to go for the previous day's leftovers of chicken. Since we're health conscious in our home (most of the time), the cooked meals are not swimming in grease (actually, there's none), and the curries just have spices and vegetables, so I might go for that in the morning (in moderate quantities, of course).
Workout Time: 6:00pm
This is approximately an hour-and-a-half before iftar time. The reason it's been chosen is because the body is in a prime state to receive nutrients post-workout, meaning I can eat starchy carbs (I normally avoid them outside of the post-workout 3 hour window in favor of fibrous carbs like veggies and fruits) alongside my proteins.
I don't do cardio at this time, only weight training. I've never done this before, and in the past ten days, it's during the time I work out that I'm the most energetic (after warming up), and the least hungry. Can't explain it, and it might just be an individual thing.
Iftar Time: 7:40pm
Since this is right after my workout, I like to gulp down a recovery drink (2 parts carb, 1 part protein) on the way to the masjid to maghrib. Having the drink and heading to prayer works really well because by the time I return home, I'm not full, but I'm not ravenous either, so it's easy for me to put together a reasonable portion of food and not feel like I have to gorge until stuffed like a butterball turkey. The meal will consist of a moderate amount of starchy carbs, lean proteins, and vegetables. Occasionally, I sneak in a small dessert item with a glass of skim milk (if you go back and re-read that sentence, you may have noticed I underlined moderate and small - that's to emphasize that working out along with fasting is not a license to overeat, so keep that in mind if you didn't workout during your fast).
Results so far?
As of this writing, 10 fasts have been completed, and I've done weightlifting on 7 of those 10 days. Alhamdulillaah, my goal of fat loss has continued, and thus far, I have not seen any loss in strength. My energy levels are higher, and something I didn't expect, on non-workout days I don't feel the need to gorge either. I broke one of my fasts with a date followed by a scoop of protein (30 grams of whey and egg proteins), and felt absolutely content with that for 3 – 4 hours. I ate a small meal afterwards.
I started this Ramadan at 221, and I'm currently weighing in at 215 – 217, alhamdulillaah. inshā'Allāh in a future article I'll write in with final results.
Dude, I'm not Working Out In Ramadan – How Should I Eat?
If that's the case, this should be your macronutrient breakdown:
- Carbs: Make sure they're fibrous (veggies and fruits), not starchy (breads, pastas, etc), or sugary (coke, fruit juices, etc). Fill your plate with fruits and veggies as much as you like.
- Proteins: Meat is good. Yes, it is. It's hard to get gain fat from it due to the thermic effect of digestion. Don't fill up on bread carbs if you have fattier meats, just eat the meat and veggies and move on.
- Fats: Aim for poly- and monounsaturated fats (peanuts, natural peanut butter, olive oil, almonds, etc) in moderate quantities. If your meals are doused in saturated fat oils, dump out as much of the oil as possible. If the food is fried, avoid it in favor of something else.
As for meal timing, try this out:
- Breaking the fast: Use two dates and two full glasses of water. Now go pray maghrib.
- After ṣalāh: Did you pray your sunnah? Do your dhikr? Make du‘ā’? Do all of this, then aim to fill your plate once with a moderate quantity of food. Keep some space in your stomach so you'll have khushoo' during…
- Taraweeh: I love a good cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee with creamer and lots of Splenda. The caloric cheat is low in impact, and along with the smaller meal, it helps keep me awake during taraweeh.
- Post-taraweeh: You can eat a small meal here again, given the guidelines above, though late in the evening I personally prefer a protein shake.
How Do I Keep Myself from Gorging?
You've probably read a lot of pre-Ramadan advice about gorging, and often, the one who gave the advice probably gorged as much as anyone else when it started. I used to do this as well, but I learned through the program I'm doing how to control this.
One of the habits we're trained in is eating til 80% full. How can you tell if you're 80% full? It's really very simple:
- Take a moment part way through to stop and ask yourself if you still feel hungry – in other words, if you stopped right at this moment, would you feel compelled to eat again?
- If yes, keep eating and re-evaluate soon afterwards.
- If no, stop eating.
You ever notice how after you break your fast with just a few dates and water, you're really not ravenously hungry anymore? There's a reason for that – it's because you're not ravenously hungry anymore.
But what is it we all do? We fill our plates anyway, not once, but twice, with enough food to feed an elephant, and then realize during taraweeh, “Gosh, I'm really full, I need to loosen my belt.”
All that plate-filling is not physiological – your body doesn't need, nor does it ask for all that food. It's psychological – you've been depriving yourself all day, and now it's time to make up. You've been telling yourself that all day everytime you felt hunger pangs that you'll reward yourself with some tasty food.
Stop doing that – Ramadan doesn't intermittently start and stop between sunrise and sunset. Take all 24 hours into account, and set it in your mind that at all times, you'll be in peak condition for extended worship during the day and night, and that going beyond what is needed when breaking the fast will ruin the quality of your 'ibaadah.
So stop looking forward to eating – start looking forward to praying and Qur'aan reading, and let your post-fasting eating follow what will optimize those two, and run THAT message in your head throughout the day – your take on food by the time you get to iftar will dramatically change, inshā'Allāh. Once you get to the food, use the 80% full rule to help keep yourself in check.