What is your take on fasting and building muscle? Some people can’t imagine breaking their normal eating habits while getting ”big’. Others, however, found the tremendous fat loss and exercise benefits associated with fasting.
Various eating patterns involving fasting for better performance and fat loss seem to go in and out of fashion quite regularly. One of the most current and well-known of these is Intermittent Fasting.
People who take on this eating style usually adhere to the following eating routine: 16 hours of fasting (no food, water is allowed) followed by an 8-hour window of eating.
Today however, we’ll look at a more extensive fasting period – Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month celebrated by Muslims all over the world. Ramadan is marked by a time of retrospection and ‘refraining’ from usual activities – such as eating and drinking. This fasting period lasts from sunrise to sunset, and depending on where you live, this can mean 12-15 hours of no food or water.
Given the time of the year (June), going about your day for so long without any fuel is not the easiest of things.
But what about people who try to build muscle? What happens to their energy, macros and fitness goals?
The evidence of the positive impact of fasting on sporting performance is well documented. Fasting for instance leads to increased concentration, brings your body to a catabolic state, and aids fat loss.
But how to stay on your top-performance during Ramadan? Here we’ll look at 3 most important aspects to remember for building muscle during this time:
- Don’t stop working out
This advice seems quite obvious. But 30 days of pretty strict fasting is not easy. Feeling low energy all day can be very demotivating.
To make sure your energy levels stay up, you need to have the right nutrition and food sources outside your fasting period (see point 3 below).
Another way to stay motivated is through ensuring that all other conditions for a good workout are met.
What are your current fitness goals?
Ramadan is likely to affect your short-term goals and you’ll need to adjust them to your eating habits.
See Ramadan as a great time and opportunity for maintaining your muscles mass and getting lean, or even better, cutting down on body fat.
Your goals need to be aligned with the current situation to keep you motivated, despite the possible feeling of not wanting to do anything but eat (that’s why timing is very important, see Point 3).
Lastly, remember that even small workouts purely for damage control are better than nothing. At the end of the 30 day period, you will be glad you didn’t stop exercising.
- How to break your fasting state the right way
There are two fasting states. Firstly, the natural one during sleep. Secondly, the period between sunrise to sunset. Because you are introducing a new pattern of consuming nutrients and energy, the way you eat and what you eat must adjust and change.
Breaking the first fasting state – breakfast
Start your day with a big glass of water and some sea salt. Sea salt has been used for centuries to aid health due to its content of 84 minerals and nutrients our body needs. Contrary to the popular belief that anything with salt that we eat/drink will lead to dehydration, drinking a pinch of sea salt will hold water in your body and help you keep hydrated for longer during.
If you supplement, add some amino acids or a protein shake to your breakfast to stay on track of your macronutrients.
One of the most important things to remember is that you need to eat complex slow releasing carbs to have energy all day. I usually go for actual ”proper” meals others have for lunch or a dinner – but these big meals is not for everyone.
Include complex carbs such as oat bran, brown rice or sweet potatoes with your preferred source of protein. Make sure you carb up and drink plenty of water for the day to have the energy to carry on. Carbing up will also help you to stay away from a caloric deficit as much as possible (it’s likely to happen anyway).
Breaking the second fasting state
Break your longer fasting state carefully. Remember your body has just starved for around 13 hours. Start off by taking multi-vitamins as your body didn’t receive any nutrients all day. Secondly, try squeezing an orange to a glass of warm water. This will increase your HDL levels, the ”good cholesterol”. Next, start with light meals. Some people can feel very heavy if they break their fast with hard to digest foods such as beef. Get yourself a salad first. You’ll supply the body with fibre that you didn’t receive all day. A light meal such as salad will kick-start your body for food consumption and help you with possible constipation due to lacking fibre.
Once you move to your main and long awaited meal, make sure to stack up on carbs. Similarly to your breakfast, go for sweet potatoes or brown rice or other sources of complex carbs. Ideally, have this meal before you hit the gym, and have one more meal later on. The second main meal should be fairly similar to the first one.
If you supplement, make sure to take your shake too. Three meals might not be enough to achieve all your macros. I am not a big advocate of bodybuilding supplements, but Ramadan might be the right time for them.
- How to workout during Ramadan
Ideally, your workouts will be at the night time – after your prayers and the first proper meal. Despite replenishing some of the nutrients and energy, it’s unlikely you will be in a ”normal” state. Your blood sugar levels will be low, and it will take your body few hours to regain a balance of all bodily and hormonal functions.
In any sense of the word, heavy and frequent workouts are not optimal for your body during Ramadan. Because of this, train around 4x per week and stay away from bulking or any other intensive workouts (e.g. CrossFit).
Similarly, extensive cutting workouts are not ideal neither. Don’t try to get into a caloric deficit through your workout routine. Your diet has probably done it already. There is a bunch of great running resources out there, but avoid running or any other types of cardio.
Instead, go for shorter workouts (max. 50min) with multi-joint movements such as deadlifts, benchpresses or military presses.
Your workouts should be geared towards muscle maintenance and damage control.
Extra advice: it’s likely that you will finish the standard working day anywhere between 4-7pm. This still leaves you with minimum 2 hours until the sun comes down. Use this time for a nap to gain energy for your gym session.
Wrapping it up
We can all agree that Ramadan is a great time, spiritually, mentally and physiologically.
The physiological benefits of fasting are well known, however, the prolonged withholding of water and food makes it extremely difficult for people wishing to build muscle to achieve their goals.
Here we discussed the 3 main areas to consider during Ramadan. Firstly, make sure you eat properly to sustain energy for your workouts. Your workouts shouldn’t be too intensive as your body is unlikely to be prepared for it, and lastly, make sure you still do your workouts despite not feeling like it!
It’s only 30 days and your future self with thank you for it!
David Kanika is a fitness enthusiast with a passion for bodybuilding and improving human performance. When he isn’t too busy telling people that he is a vegan, David manages runningready.com