Fasting. For many Muslims its during the month of Ramadan. For some its for making up days from Ramadan, and for other times it’s for simply for consolidating your faith and focusing on prayer by disciplining your mind to look beyond the physical hunger and feed yourself spiritually for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The flipside is that fasting is also about food. Lots of food. And not just abstaining from it. When people focus so hard on abstaining from food, particularly for long hours like during Ramadan, breaking the fast becomes a big deal and for a lot of people the hour of breaking the fast can be the most gluttonous which is counter productive to the cleansing effect that fasting is supposed to have, with many actually gaining weight during Ramadan. This is partly because of over eating and partly because people are less likely to work out during the day. And if your fasting in countries with long hours, like the UK, it is unlikely that your going to have the energy to go to the gym at 10-11 o’clock at night when you have to be up at 2.00 am for suhoor and then 7 for work the next day.
And though fasting is meant to be a spiritual cleansing from gluttony and worldly desires, for most its not that easy to switch off from regular life, especially if nothing else in your daily routine changes. And for those who find it hard to switch off, find the bloating and eating at odd times hard and still want to keep in shape here are a few bits of helpful advice.
Eat a Good Suhoor/ Meal Before you Start Fasting
The mistake I used to make was missing suhoor so that I wouldn’t have to go to sleep immediately after eating and so that, in my mind, I would still only be having one meal a day. Mistake. Suhoor is the only thing that’s going to keep you going all day and keep you from gorging when you break you’re fast the only thing giving you energy to survive 8 hours of work and study throughout the day. Don’t miss it even if you’re not that hungry at 2.00 am.
The best way to keep suhoor healthy is to load up on fruit. Not fried stuff and not a heap of chocolate and pastries. It may be ok once or twice in the month, but mostly try to stick to fruit and tea. Dates are a really good food for starting a fast because they are high in calories and nutrients so they replace the nutrients and energy that you would have lost and will lose while fasting, which is why it is such a popular fruit amongst fasting Muslims during Ramadan. And one of the most important things about eating suhoor is drinking water. Start it off with hot lemon water or green tea to aid with digestion. This is what is going to sustain you and helps stop bloating and being gassy and then continue. And if you can wait at least an hour before going back to sleep, do so.
Eating a Good Iftar/ Break-fast
This is what usually gets to most people because after a long day of not eating you just want to stuff yourself with all of your favourites. But a little patience will help keep the calories off and the guilt at bay. Start with hot water or tea, again, to help with digestion, stop gas and bloating, and then break your fast briefly so your main meal will still be the dinner afterwards and it won’t be as if you’ve had two big meals.
If you’re making up days or only doing one of two days out of the week, you don’t really need to worry about working out while fasting as you can just work out well the day before/after. But for those fasting for the 28-30 days of Ramadan, there will need to need to be an alternative.
Since your food intake is going to be limited for a number of hours, and since it isn’t practical to do any hardcore workouts whilst you have no energy and can’t drink any water, the best times to work out are just before your about to receive sustenance, so either before suhoor or just before iftar. If you go to a 24 hr gym and have the stamina to go after iftar than that’s great, but I know there are many, myself included, that don’t have that type of energy or drive and I really wouldn’t recommend working out after suhoor, regardless of how many hours your fast, is as you need the energy of that meal to get you through the day. So the alternative is to workout after breaking the fast a rule that can apply to anyone whose fasting. Just before you’re about to break your fast is the best time to burn away the excess fat and just before you replenish the water and nutrients, so your body doesn’t have time to shut down.
But even with this technique, I personally I wouldn’t attempt to do any hardcore weights during while fasting, even if you are working out before you break your fast. Its too risky and if you’ve been fasting since 2.00 am and start pumping iron at 8.00 pm after a long day or running on and off trains and trying to work or study, there is no guarantee that your body is going to have any energy to lift anything, and you could really hurt yourself. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do low impact core exercises or short cardio workouts, like skipping or hula hooping. It won’t be the intense calorie burner that you would be doing if you weren’t fasting, but it will keep the excess calories and water weight off. And if you are fasting during Ramadan be sure to go in on the training just before the month starts so that the month that your fasting will simply be a rest month for weights, and it will make your workout that much more effective when the month is over.
For anyone who does fast, they know that the fast is meant to be a spiritual experience that transcends the physical and the physical desire, to be, look, act or feel a certain way. But its not always easy to drop the habit of needing to work out and maintain a healthy body. But it can be made easier if you understand that your body is a temple and as much as you should purify it through hunger, you should also ensure that you only put good into it when you do eat and keep active to maintain its strength, which will have an equally as positive effect on the mind.