I have written about working out or exercising during Ramadhan before (see here). This blogpost is a rehash of the original one; since then I have discovered HIIT and injured my knee so I can no longer run.
IMPORTANT: The content of this blogpost is my own opinion gleaned from research and personal experience. It is for information purposes only. Please consult your doctor before starting any exercise, diet or nutritional supplement program.
FIVE MAJOR QUESTIONS ABOUT WORKING OUT OR EXERCISING DURING RAMADHAN (FASTING MONTH)
1. WHAT IS THE BEST EXERCISE DURING RAMADHAN?
- It should be anything light and moderate and one that can be maintained consistently and safely. Walking, riding a bike or using the treadmill at a moderate speed (4-5km/h if you are at novice level) 30mins each time x 3 times a week is sufficient to maintain fitness level. If your goal is to lose weight, you should combine exercise with portion control – meaning, you need to watch your calories. I do not cover calorie counting in this article but you can find good resources on the internet, let google do the walking.
- Invest in a pedometer, a basic one from Daiso costs a mere RM5 (battery included). A half hour walk up and down a shopping mall while window shopping will easily net you 5,000 steps (it is recommended to take 10,000 steps/day). A pedometer helps take the guessing out of the equation.
- If HIIT is your poison (it is mine), the best option is to dial down the intensity, or decrease the duration. HIIT is high intensity and tires you right out, but the good thing about HIIT is that it can be as little as 4min or as long as 40mins each time.
- You can follow the TABATA protocol (Tabata is basically a HIIT protocol condensed neatly into a 4min burst): 4min TABATA = (20secs intense + 10secs rest) x 8 rounds.
Here are some TABATA ideas (Source: The 4-minute Miracle Workout):
- ON THE BIKE: Sprint with high resistance for 20 seconds, then recover with leg speed as slow as possible for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
- ON THE TREADMILL: Sprint as fast as possible for 20 seconds, then recover by walking or standing still for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
- WITHOUT EQUIPMENT: “All-out” efforts of jumping jacks, jumping rope, high-knee jogging in place—any activity that gets your heart rate up will work for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of total rest. You can stick to four full minutes of one move OR alternative between a few. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing—as long as you are pushing yourself to your highest possible intensity. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
- OUTDOORS: Run or sprint (on a flat or up a hill) for 20 seconds, then recover by coming to a complete stop. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
Our body goes through recalibration and rehabilitation process as we fast; so exercise every other day – meaning, give yourself a day’s rest each time to help your body recover.
2. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO EXERCISE?
Technically the best time to exercise is when your body temperature is at its warmest i.e. between 4-6pm. During Ramadhan, this can be a challenge especially if you do not re-hydrate yourself sufficiently the night before. But exercise can be done at any time really, what you need to do is to try a few different ones and then choose the one that works for you best.
The choices are:
(i) BEFORE SAHUR – 4-5am
- Sahur ends when the call to Subuh (dawn) prayer is made; if you are in Malaysia you can check the daily time at e-solat. To avoid confusion: Imsak is the “reminder time”, typically allotted for 10mins before Subuh which serves as a reminder that Subuh is approaching and one should finish eating as soon as possible. If you are still eating during Imsak, but stop as soon as the call to Subuh prayer is made, your fast is still valid.
- If you can wake up at 4.30am and exercise for 30mins, rest for a bit and then have your Sahur after that, then this is your best option. You can go back to sleep after Subuh prayers – though I believe this is not recommended as you’ve just had a meal so the sleep could undo all the hard work you’ve put in the hour before.
- For the last 10 years, I prefer to sleep through Sahur as I have to get up really early to go to work. If I do wake up, it is usually just to get a drink or two. But as I am on flexi-time this year, I want to try to do my workout before Sahur and see if it is a better option for me than the evening session. I would schedule all my HIITs at this time.
(ii) WITHIN 2-HOURS BEFORE BREAKING FAST - 5pm-7pm
- There are conflicting views on this: some say that you risk dehydration and muscle damage, others say that with the lack of glycogen the body will start to burn stored fat thus you are actually hydrated during the duration of the exercise and you burn fat faster (provided you keep the exercise light and within the aerobics zone i.e. 50 to 65 percent VO2 max).
- My personal rule of thumb is: if I re-hydrate enough the night before (by drinking a min of 2L of fluids), I am not afraid of risking a little exercise between 6.30-7.15pm. My routine would be a light warm-up, followed by 20-25mins brisk walking and ended with yoga stretches. You can minimize thirst by working out indoors and wear light, loose clothing. I walk regularly in the morning and I don’t find myself panting for water afterwards so I believe I should not have any problems doing so before breaking fast either.
(iii) 2-HOURS AFTER THE BREAKING OF FAST – 9.30pm-10.30pm
- If you are a gym junkie/bunny, this is the best time to hit it. Allow yourself 30mins – 2 hours after you have your meal to avoid cramps or indigestion or any of those unpleasant side effects. The bigger the meal, the longer you should wait.
- I would suggest you break your fast with a light meal like soup, whole-grains (hello cereal and oatmeal), fruits and nuts; and easily-digested protein like eggs, fish, soy-based food, milk (incl. soy milk) and yogurt. This way you only need to wait about half hour before you can commence exercising. Leave the heavy stuff like rice with rendang and murtabak ayam post-exercise. I know it is easier said than done so I am going to leave it at that.
- If going to the gym is out of the question since your gym closes at 9pm and you do not have any equipment at home, perhaps you can invest in getting a jump rope or an aerobics DVD (or be a cheapie like me and just download videos from youtube). A set of dumbbells or kettle bell is also a good investment; you can check various videos on youtube on how you can achieve gym-level satisfaction at home without any of the standard equipment. Additionally, if you like HIIT, this should be the time my friend.
- Without meaning to be religious or anything, Tarawih prayers are actually a great form of exercise. Praying movements are similar to gentle yoga poses (if you didn’t know that already) and the repetitions, be it 8, 12 or 20 raka’h means you will break into a little sweat.
Anyway, the golden rule is you should choose whatever that works best and can be maintained consistently.
3. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO BREAK THE FAST?
- Break it gradually; meaning, don’t wolf everything down at one seating. Start with drinks and fruits, followed by soup and easily-digested proteins (see above). Then, take a a 10min break (good time to perform Maghrib prayers and catch a little TV) before you go on to the main meal. This method will allow the body to “wake up” and help to curb any over-eating tendencies.
- There are conflicting views over whether you should or should not drink right after or while you are eating. If we go by the science, there is sufficient research data that suggests drinking during or right after meal does not affect or dilute your digestive enzymes (Source: Mayo Clinic). However, some people may experience better digestion by abstaining from drinking while having their meals.
- Personally I am the kind who drinks as I eat and I drink about 2 glasses each time. It helps with satiety so I don’t overeat; plus I just really really like drinking water.
- If you have doubts and still want to go with no-drinks-with-meals rule, go ahead. I believe in moderation rather than totally abstaining i.e. during the meal, take small sips and if you can, choose plain water over sugared drinks.
- No matter which way you swing, aim to drink 2L of water/fluid every day. Break that down into a glass of water every half hour – so by the time you go to bed at midnight you would have been sufficiently hydrated.
4. HOW DO I LOSE WEIGHT DURING RAMADHAN?
- The basics of losing weight is the same for all months, for all body types, for all ages: eat balanced meals, manage portions, manage stress and get enough sleep, and burn more calories that you consume (i.e. exercise). The biggest challenge for Ramadhan is not the fasting part but the binge eating that happens during breaking of the fast. I, too, am guilty of this.
- A safe weight loss target is -500g a week. You can achieve that by cutting out about 500 Calories from your daily diet, combined with exercise. You can use the Calorie Calculator here to see how much you need to eat and how much you need to cut out to reach your ideal weight loss target each week. For my weight and height, I need to eat 2000 calories a day; and to lose -500g a week I need to cut out 500 Calories from my diet. Here are some articles with tips on how to do it:
- Do note that eating less than 1200 calories a day may be detrimental to your optimum health; and anything with less than 1000 calories a day is dangerous without doctor’s supervision.
- I don’t cover diet and nutritional supplement extensively in this post, so I would like to recommend the following resources for you to check out:
5. HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS ENOUGH?
- It is enough when your body tells you it is enough. Apart from minimizing risk of injury, knowing your limits help you set new fitness goals as you get stronger and more flexible. The recommended time i.e 30mins is merely a recommendation. If at any time you are at a point of exhaustion, stop.
- The rule of the thumb is to pay attention to your body: if your breathing becomes fast and erratic, you are seeing spots or your sight becomes blurry, you are feeling dizzy or lightheaded, you are vomitting or feel like doing so – STOP IMMEDIATELY. Sit down, put your head between your knees; or lie flat on the ground with feet elevated. Then, if it is possible, re-hydrate with sugared or sports drinks. If this happens while you are fasting, then continue resting til you feel strong enough to get up. Do not attempt to resume exercise. I always find a cool shower can quickly wash away any fatigue and exhaustion – after that just chill out on the sofa and wait for the breaking of fast to arrive.
My goal this Ramadhan is to maintain form and fitness level. Admittedly I have been skipping exercise frequently in the past month and I welcome the coming of Ramadhan to start to a new exercise cycle. In the next few days leading up to Ramadhan I intend to test myself to establish a base of my limits so that I know what would be a safe place and intensity to start.
Selamat Menyambut Ramadhan Al-Mubarak to all!