It’s that time again. Here is Version 4 of our Ramadan strategy: optimised for maximum muscle retention with minimum intrusion to the spiritual aspect of Ramadan.

 

If you would like personalised coaching to help you guide diet and training through Ramadan please contact us to enquire about coaching services

 

 

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Ramadan…
A period for mental resolve and spiritual benefit.

A couple of years ago I would have read the words:

Ramadan…

A period for catabolism and sickening amounts of cottage cheese.

If you’re in the same situation and faced with the question of how to train in Ramadan, this article is definitely for you. If not, you can still learn from it by taking the principles of adapting your diet and training to atypical circumstances.
The physical requirements of Ramadan are simply no food or water during daylight hours.


Fasting in Ramadan can also have several benefits:

– Improved mental discipline.

– A chance to allow training/diet to run in the background and to focus on higher priorities.

– The potential for restored insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning.

– Higher growth hormone output during the fasts.

 add to ramadan article


The Experiments

Over the last 5 years I have tried different (and stupid) strategies to train during Ramadan, and have arrived at an optimal solution for any buff Muslims.

Ramadan during the past 3 years has fallen mostly during summer, meaning much longer fasts:

Failed Strategy – Year 1
Training: Stop training with weights altogether and attempt a bodyweight circuit once per week after your evening meal.
Diet: Eating according to appetite. (Very low during Ramadan, remember you stomach capacity reduces).

Result
Feel sick at night. Major strength loss and regression (20kg loss on all lifts)

Failed Strategy – Year 2
Training: Train fasted at the gym in the evening before it closes – high volume and high intensity. Wait an hour until you can eat.

Diet: Attempt to eat ‘clean’ – choking down masses of cottage cheese, avoiding late-night carbs (casein brah, don’t want to go catabolic during the fast!).

Result
Dehydration and feeling terrible while training – while at greater risk of injury. 8kg weight loss and some strength losses. Food stops being enjoyable.

Failed Strategy – Year 3:
Training: Go mental in the opposite direction and do a 5-day-a-week shoulder specialisation program, training at 2am at a 24-hour gym.

Diet: Masses of calories, lots of junk food and cheesecake in a blender. Rice and Meat Curry, 1kg of chips and a whole chicken every night. Fit taraweeh somewhere in between it all.

Result

Gain 10kg on your overhead press, some size in your delts, and completely miss the point of Ramadan. Feel so bloated you have to lie down at night, and feel sick and thirsty during the day – genuinely dreading having to eat at night. Overly food-focused and total loss of focus on Ramadan itself, including a reversed sleeping pattern. Fail.

Years 4 & 5: Finally getting the hang of this business

Reduced training volume, ate at maintenance, implemented the advice described in this article and continued to progress while minimally impacting on time and Ramadan-commitments.

Lessons Learned

– Ramadan is a time to focus inwards. You should not be training 5x per week and stuffing yourself at night, nor should your mind be too occupied with things concerning diet/training. Ideally, these should take a back seat while doing the bare minimum to maintain your strength. Equally, you don’t want to lose all your hard work by losing too much strength/size. So here it is:

The Optimal Ramadan Strategy:

1 – Forget trying to eat clean, and eat with the following two purposes in mind:

a) Adjust evening food choices to match your appetite:

There are two types of people in this world. Those who gain weight during Ramadan, and those who lose weight. This mainly depends on appetite, although the more common outcome of a short eating window and stomach-shrinking is that people tend to undereat and get run-down as a result.

Therefore: aim for more calorie-dense foods and avoid foods that might normally bloat you up, e.g. overdoing the oats or dairy.

Rice, whey, chicken, fatty cuts of meat, pastries, sweets, fruit, ice-cream, whatever you need.

However, if you’re the type that can tend to overeat: begin your suhoor with lean protein and fibrous vegetables to curb appetite before moving on to the direct carbohydrate sources.

b) Getting sufficient protein: Eat your protein first, aiming for 2g/kg bodyweight daily, followed by carbs, then fat, to satiety.

c) Protein goal, calorie goal: Don’t aim for specific macros during the month – hit a protein goal (2g/kg) and calorie goal (maintenance) made up from any combination of carbs and fats.

d) Prepare a tray of food and a multivitamin during the day with a ready­ made protein shake to cover your bases. Don’t be afraid to rely on whey to hit protein targets.

2– Don’t deliberately aim for a calorie deficit.
If calories are too low, you’ll be worn down and under-recovered from the training program below. The only fitness goal you should realistically aim to pursue is maintenance during this month. You may find that you naturally eat a deficit from the restricted eating window, but this is not the time to try to force it. Remember, portions can be misleading when eating a day’s worth of food over a short period.

3 – Stay hydrated at night. Aim for at least 2.5 litres.
– 
Try to spread this out throughout the evening, so you don’t flush it all and end up thirsty the next day.

4 – Forget the ‘no carbs at night’ claptrap.
If you’ve been reading this website for a while, you’ll know by now that carbohydrates at night is actually more muscle-sparing and fat burning than having a larger breakfast.

5 – You won’t ‘go catabolic’ during the fast.
The potentially catabolic part is too large of a WEEKLY CALORIE DEFICIT and INSUFFICIENT PROTEIN. This won’t be a problem if you follow the above guidelines. While fasting is technically a catabolic process, you’ll offset any muscle loss by eating sufficient calories and signalling your body to retain muscle with the training program.

6: Train at night, 2-3x/week with the low volume strategy given below.

Ideally you can find a 24 hour gym nearby, which are surprisingly busy 11pm-2am in Ramadan! You should avoid training fasted: the dehydration increases risk of injury and will inhibit performance + recovery.

Even if you train after iftar, train at a slightly lower percentage of your max: you will not be optimally hydrated. Avoid deadlifts during the month, as it is the movement that carries the highest risk when dehydrated.. I’m speaking from experience unfortunately.

7: Intra-workout nutrition:
See below.

Careful not to let night time turn into rampant bingeing!
Careful not to let evenings turn into rampant bingeing!

Example Day:

7am: Awake – fasting until 10pm

6pm: Depending on your working hours, 6pm-8pm might be a good time to catch some sleep.

10pm: Iftar:
Serving of rice & chicken, and dessert. 1 litre water

11pm: Taraweeh

Midnight: Begin training, sip intraworkout drink (See below)

1am: Suhoor (pre-fast meal). Should be similar to your iftar, but with more fibre and fat. This will slow digestion and help to maintain satiety during the fast.

1.30am: Sleep

 

 

Intra-Workout Drink:

Dehydration is catabolic and increases your risk of injury, so be sure to stay hydrated during your workouts. I use 1 scoop of whey or MP Exceed (BCAAs and electrolyte blend) in 2 litres of water and (optionally) up to 50g maltodextrin or haribo. Adequate fluids, electrolytes, blood glucose and aminos, will improve cellular hydration and performance. 

Training Template

The goal of training during Ramadan is strength maintenance/gain,. We advise a low to moderate volume split that can be done 2x/week, using straight sets.

By treating Ramadan as an extended deload, you can increase your training volume and intensity in the weeks leading up to the month, using this time to recover and restore anabolic signalling

————————————————-

 

Monday:

A) Seated press: 5×3 @80% 1RM
B) Bench: 5×3 @80% 1RM
C) Weighted chin ups: 4×6
D) Hanging leg raises: 2×12

————————————————-

 


Friday:

A) Squat: 5×3 @80%
B) Close grip bench: 5×5
C) Seated V-­bar row: 3 x 10
D) Rope face pulls: 3×12
E) Calves/Abs 3×12

Make sure to spend slightly longer warming up hips and lower back before squats. Kelly Starrett’s hip opener is a personal favourite:

————————————————-

 

Summary:

  • Daytime: Fast
  • Sundown (Either after Maghrib or Isha): Begin training while sipping your intraworkout drink. Do not train dehydrated.
  • Iftar: Serving of protein, followed by carbohydrates/sugars, then fat. 1 litre water.
  • Suhoor: Higher fat + fibre meal with 60-100g protein

 

Troubleshooting:

Q – Should I do cardio? 

A – No. Don’t be silly! Unless you’re training for endurance, the only use for cardio here would be to offset a calorie surplus eaten during the night, in which case remember the Hadith ““Enough for a human being to have luqaymat (a few mouthfuls) that prop up his spine and, if he must have more in his stomach, then one third of food, one third of water, and one third of air.” Use the opportunity to exercise self control instead.

Cardio to deliberately create a calorie deficit is a recipe for fatigue. The only training goal during this period is the minimum stimulus to maintain muscle mass. See this paper if you’re interested in how ramadan affects sports performance.

 

Q – Will BCAAs break my fast?

A – Yes, they will. No food or water must pass the lips during the fast.

 

Q – My gym shuts before maghrib (sundown), so I can’t have whey/BCAA and then train. What can I do?

Another option would be pushups and chinups at home in the evening, or to train early in the morning, preferably when your gym opens.
However, keep the rest periods LONG to reduce sweating and dehydration. Remember the goal of the training is strength maintenance, not to run yourself into the ground.

 

Q – How should I train after Ramadan ends?

A – Because of the probable calorie restriction you have undergone during Ramadan, there’s a fantastic opportunity to rebound and gain some good size and strength in the few weeks following Eid, should you so wish. Gradually increase calories and volume to a  higher level to take full advantage, perhaps using this template. You will experience decent muscle and strength gains and potentially loss of bodyfat at the same time if you time this correctly.

Gradually increasing calories and training volume after a deload period creates a favourable metabolic and hormonal environment for muscle gain[1]. Bodybuilders take advantage of this brief rebound after competitions to make their best gains of the year.

 

Conclusion

So, enjoy Ramadan this year, maximise your spiritual benefit, and use these guidelines to take a load off your mind when it comes to training and diet. Don’t fall into the same traps that I did.

The Next Step

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44 responses to “How to Train During Ramadan – The Ultimate Guide V.4

    1. Salam yusef,
      Thank you very much for this article.
      This is very helpful. My gym unfortunatly closes just at Magreb so I was wondering if you would advice me to train 1 hour before Iftar? Because in the article you mention doing exercises at home but I have no weights at home.
      Also you mention to don’t do any deadlifts because this exercise has the highest risk of injuries when dehydrated. Do you have any tips for saver glute exercises before breaking my fast?
      Thank you very much and may Allah accept our Fasting and prayers

      1. Glad it was helpful Ibtissam – training before iftar isn’t ideal as you’re at higher risk of injury. It’s up to you whether you want to take the risk, but I’d advise going lighter. Alternatively a bodyweight routine would do fine – a safer alternative for deadlifts could be glute bridges :)

  1. Jazakallah for the article mate. I’ve only been training seriously for about 2 Ramadhans but I thought I did pretty well last year. I’m hoping to utilise the leangains approach this year with a little tweaking. Our feeding window will be about 5 hours i think here. Plan is iftar – moderate/large meal, protein and carbs high. Taraweehs will take us to about the 2hour left mark then i’ll take some whey with water and do a workout concentrating on only the big lifts with maybe a few quick assisstance exercises (shouldn’t take longer than 30-40mins) then straight home for sehri again high carbs and protein. I’ll probably make a high calorie whey smoothie because otherwise i won’t meet maintenance.

    Go to http://www.leangains.com for a website full of great info on the benefits of fasting and weightlifting.

    1. Glad you liked the article Abdullah. The Leangains approach works well with Ramadan, but the crucial missing element is *hydration*. If there’s only one thing to take from this article it’s the intraworkout nutrition.

      Your plan looks good, I hope you benefit physically, mentally and spiritually from this Ramadan.

  2. Great post!

    I am just confused about one thing……

    Are you saying Eat something light at sunset, then work out and come back for a bigger meal?

    The posts below is what is confusing…….

    6 – Iftar should be high-carb, high protein. This will be your post-workout meal on training days. No guideline amounts given here, because I don’t want anyone to obsess over this. Just make it an ample meal. Rice and chicken will do, and don’t be afraid of the fattier cuts of meat.

    8 – Last, and most importantly: Intra-workout nutrition.
    Cellular dehydration is highly catabolic, so be sure to keep the cells hydrated during your workouts.

    Confusing because you are saying that iftar is your post workout ( after) meal but we should be hydrated during the workout?

    So what do you recommending breaking fast with?

    Help?

  3. osiris said:
    Great post!
    I am just confused about one thing……
    Are you saying Eat something light at sunset, then work out and come back for a bigger meal?
    The posts below is what is confusing…….
    6 – Iftar should be high-carb, high protein. This will be your post-workout meal on training days. No guideline amounts given here, because I don’t want anyone to obsess over this. Just make it an ample meal. Rice and chicken will do, and don’t be afraid of the fattier cuts of meat.
    8 – Last, and most importantly: Intra-workout nutrition.
    Cellular dehydration is highly catabolic, so be sure to keep the cells hydrated during your workouts.
    Confusing because you are saying that iftar is your post workout ( after) meal but we should be hydrated during the workout?
    So what do you recommending breaking fast with?
    Help?

    Hi Osiris, thanks.
    The optimal approach would be:
    – Sundown: Begin training with Intra-workout drink + 3 litres water
    – Post workout: First solid meal
    So you’d be breaking your fast with the intraworkout shake, then eating when you get home.

    maltodextrin

  4. Yusef said:
    Hi Osiris, thanks.

    The optimal approach would be:

    – Sundown: Begin training with Intra-workout drink + 3 litres water
    – Post workout: First solid meal

    So you’d be breaking your fast with the intraworkout shake, then eating when you get home.

    Thanks for the clarification!

    Much appreciated for the workout as well!

  5. Yusef said:
    Hi Osiris, thanks.

    The optimal approach would be:

    – Sundown: Begin training with Intra-workout drink + 3 litres water
    – Post workout: First solid meal

    So you’d be breaking your fast with the intraworkout shake, then eating when you get home.

    Fantastic!! Thanks for the clarification!

    Much appreciated for the workout as well!

    1. Hi Moe – that depends on your schedule and whether you have suhur. I sleep after isha and only occasionally wake up for suhur.

  6. i have a question. I have to train up for a marathon. can i at least do 10km after high carbo, high protein iftar? im still not sure of your Q – Should I do cardio?

    clarify? =D

    1. If you’re training for a marathon, yes you can. Can’t see the fun in that to be honest but since you’re doing your cardio for performance purposes rather than fat loss, then it’s fine. Make sure to compensate with calories to avoid sudden weight loss

  7. This is great stuff – I get a ton of questions on this exact issue and always find myself giving the same recommendation over and over again. I’m gonna bookmark this and just forward people here from now on.

    1. Awesome Sean, thanks. Yeah it was a common question so we thought best nip it in the bud and write a guide.

  8. grt post bro. i’ve been training on ramadan last year but this year leave training aside to concentrate on fasting.insha allah after eid i will be training much harder with less injury. taking this month as my off season. :)

  9. Hey bro :) As Ramadan draws near I was thinking of maximising weight loss through gym and running apart from fasting at the same time. How do you suggest I fit these into my daily/weekly schedule? Is there a way? Jazakallah khayr!

    1. Salam Muhammad – you can incorporate running into the above template, provided you stay hydrated enough and do it during the feeding window.

      Hope that helps

  10. assalamualaikum yusef,

    i just would like to ask, would it be advisable to train bodyweights ,say, 45mins before maghrib?
    and sometimes due to my odd working hours , i might not be able to do workouts before maghrib, is it advisable to perform workouts in the morning?
    i know it’s a bit paradox, but i’m trying to reduce my bodyfat but at the same time trying to gain muscle .

    thank you

  11. Hi there,

    Thanks for this, really helped. The link on ‘this template’ for the answer to ‘how should I train after Ramadan?’ Isn’t working, any other links?

    Regards,

    Zak

    1. Hi Zak – glad it was useful. Link should be fixed now: propanefitness.com/the-propane-program-simple-rules-dramatic-results/

    2. Hi Zak – glad it was useful. Link should be fixed now propanefitness.com/the-propane-program-simple-rules-dramatic-results/

  12. Assalamualikum. I am in high school and I have signed up for a training program at my school. Suhoor in Houston ends at roughly 5:15 in the morning. My training is from 7:30 to 9:30 Mon thru Thurs two hours after suhoor. After that I have to wait 11 hours at roughly 8:30 for iftar. In my training we do mainly heavy-weight lifting. We work on different muscles each day. How can I stay hydrated through my workout without breaking my fast? What foods should I eat at suhoor and iftar? Should I alternate my workout during my training? Ex: Bench 75 instead of 85. Quitting my training is not an option. Moving the times is not an option(This is a school training program-They wont move the times just for me) Please Help. Respond quickly- Obviously Ramadan is in two days. In three days I’ll be fasting and doing my training. Thanks

    1. Salam Wasiq,

      This is not an ideal situation but the best thing is for you to stay well hydrated during suhoor, then take long rest periods between sets of your training session, i.e. minimise sweating. Avoid any cardio component of the training for the month. Your teachers will understand if you want to opt out of certain parts of the program due to Ramadan

  13. Assalam alikum w rahematu allah

    very greatful for the topic !

    but , i am a woman , and train at home , and nearly have no time after Taraweeh

    so is it good for me to exercise mybe 1 hour befor iftar ???

    and sure i am not a body builder or something like that , but i satrted to workout and changed some of my eating habit to lose weight , and i don’t want to regain it in Ramadhan ! what is the best exercise type for me !

    i thought mybe toning workouts are good , since i don’t feel so tired doing theme , not like HIIT or cardio

    jazakum allaho khayran

    1. Wasalam – if you train at home, then there’s no reason to train while fasted. Safer to wait until after iftar when you are hydrated. Best type of exercise during ramadan is the template given in the article with long rest periods, or if you don’t have access to weights, bodyweight circuits will do. Hope that helps

  14. If you are breaking your fast with the intra-workout drink and working out then when are you praying maghrib?

  15. Salaam
    Ramadan Mubarak 2014 ;). Beautiful post . quick question I have some.classes at the gym that I take over the week . the timing of.the classes are 3 hours before suhur. Do u recommend taking.those.classes while fasting?
    Please advise.
    Jazahkallah

    1. Salams – glad the post helped. Did you mean the exercises are before suhur or iftar?
      We don’t advise exercising before iftar due to dehydration risk

  16. HI
    great article.
    What would you advise on a person who always puts wieght on during Ramadan, even if reduced calorie intake.
    I will train during fast as have no other time because of work commitments- so will be training an hour or so before Iftar- light Maintenance training – bodypart per day sometimes coupled with a light run(cardio) or complex sets (clean and press/squat). And training at least 5 days a week.

    for Suhoor food intake will be Water with electrolytes mix, protein smoothie, cottage cheese, maybe some fruit. When bored of that (after week or so!)- will change to eggs, toast, green tea.

    iftar meal is a mix bag- sometimes healthy (grilled chicken, vegetables plenty of water), sometimes unhealthy-ish (couple fried food, rice,deserts), generally the unhealthy meal is twice a week but limit to amount thats eaten.

    The foods i mentioned was the routine for suhoor last year…kept the hunger at bay, and kept me hydrated. I had minimum destruption to training..as i normally do high intensity training so Maintenance training is easy for me. Th eonly thing that really affects my training is lack of sleep!.

    Even tho training and eating has been improving thro the years i still tend to put on wieght over ramadan.

    what do you think?

    1. Sounds like a good approach Add – I’d go easy on the caffeine though. Green tea, even though it only contains moderate amounts of caffeine may still disrupt your sleep.The sleep is definitely a killer though! If you’re interested in coaching over Ramadan or want to discuss options you could book in a call here: propanefitness.com/call-booking/

      1. Hi thanks for reply.

        wanted advice as to not put weight on. I never put good weight on over ramadan. What do i need to change?
        As for green tea, that is kept to a minimum, if i can help it i’ll get the decaf green tea.

  17. Salam;
    Currently am lifting light weight for half an hour ( almost noon time) , and breaking my fast after 8 hours, in this case am I burning calories? Losing fat or muscle?
    Plz advise

    1. If it’s light loads and for 30 minutes, you’re unlikely to be losing muscle here. It’s not an approach I would advise though

  18. Great post, how long would you advise to train for straight after taraweh? Are there any affects of training longer than an hour with same intensity in Ramadan?

    1. The risks would stem from dehydration – both with intensity from heavy spinal loading as well as extended training sessions and water loss. Training after taraweeh is a good option, you can use the template in the article or get in touch with us if you’re looking for something customised :)

    1. What’s the purpose of the jogging? I wouldn’t advise it. If you’d like to discuss further and see if we can help you devise a program for ramadan to accelerate your progress, you can book in a call with me here: propanefitness.com/call-booking/ :)

  19. Thanks for the informative article really appreciated.
    I have a couple of questions, I’m a skinny dude I weight barely 64Kg and I’ve been trying to start working out for so long finally have the motivation to do so but it’s Ramadan and this month really goes hard on me and I end up loosing more weight and sinking even deeper, so I figured I’d look up ways to get some exercising in, do you think hiking or jogging while you fast is a good idea especially for a skinny dude like me ? because that’s pretty much all I’m capable of doing for now, I can’t join a gym because I’m too ashamed of the way I look. if you think jogging is not good for me what other options do I have at home to exercise a bit ? thanks a lot and sorry for the long post.

    1. Thanks for the comment Achraf. Jogging is not a good idea if you’re looking to gain muscle during ramadan. We’d be happy to chat and provide you with some direction if you want to book in a strategy call? Book here with myself or Jonny: propanefitness.com/call-booking/

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