I think we can all agree that when Ramazan falls during the summer months, the fasts become especially trying. Even having to walk for a few minutes in the scorching heat is enough to drain us, and makes us crawl into our beds with the air-conditioner on full blast as soon as we get home.
And now, here I am, writing an article about exercising in Ramazan.
Have I lost my mind?
Is it not enough that we’re all fasting while working, studying and continuing to run a household? Is it necessary to add this extra pressure of exercising as well?
The first step
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Before delving into the why and how of exercising in Ramazan, I will first talk about movement or the lack thereof during this time.
By movement, I’m referring to simple actions such as walking, bending, climbing, pushing, pulling or lifting.
Basically, the everyday movements that help improve our circulation, reduce stiffness, regulate blood pressure, drain our lymph to remove waste, and even release endorphins to improve our mood.
Unfortunately, this level of everyday movement drastically declines during Ramazan. We’ve become extremely accustomed to easing our discomfort in any way possible, whether it’s sleeping through most of our fast, or forming a close relationship with the living room couch.
Needless to say, this isn’t the best idea for our overall health. Fewer movements throughout the day lead to poor circulation, stiffness of the joints, more aches and pains and even a sour mood.
So before you start thinking about exercise during Ramazan, the first step should be attempting to just move as much as you usually would.
Once this foundation is set, you can choose to maximise these health benefits by coming up with an exercise routine. It’s important to recognise that everyone has a different health history and personal circumstances, so if you’re unable to exercise during Ramazan, it’s not the end of the world.
I want to clarify that exercising during Ramazan is not harmful, if it is done the right way.
In fact, for example, if you’re looking to lose weight, Ramazan is actually one of the best times to capitalise on the body’s increased fat burning rate.
When is the best time?
Simply put, the best time to exercise is when you can replenish your body with nutrients right afterwards. Your body requires food and water to rehydrate itself, replenish electrolytes and prevent muscle atrophy.
Let’s take a look at your options:
Option 1: Before Fajr
Given that Fajr is around 4am, it is unlikely that you will be willing to wake up at 3am to exercise before eating Sehri. If you are, more power to you! But keep in mind that since exercise raises cortisol levels it may be hard to fall back asleep afterwards.
Option 2: Before Iftar
Although this may initially be difficult to adjust to, this is the best time to exercise, especially if you’re looking for fat loss. Exercising in a fasting state will force your body to dip into its fat reserves much earlier, and you will be able to replenish your body with nutrients right afterwards at Iftar.
Option 3: After Iftar, before Isha
This option depends mostly on the time zone that you’re in, and requires careful planning.
For example, if you’re in Pakistan and your fast breaks between 7 and 7:30 pm, you could do the following: have a small snack such as water, dates and a fruit chaat at Iftar, attend Maghrib prayers, squeeze in a 20 or 30-minute workout around 8pm, followed by dinner and then Isha prayers.
However, if iftar in your household is often combined with dinner, or if it’s a large family affair, realistically you may not have time to yourself until 10pm (or even later), especially if you regularly participate in taraweeh prayers at night.
But what if you’re living abroad and your fast breaks closer to 8:30 or 9pm? I would not recommend exercising at that time.
Realistically, exercise would not be possible until after 9pm, which would further delay when you can eat dinner and when you can go to sleep.
Plus, exercising and eating a large meal that close to bedtime may make it difficult to fall asleep in the first place.
What type of exercises should I do?
If you’re exercising before Iftar, keep it to light cardio such as jogging, biking or yoga for 20 to-45 minutes. Or if you’d prefer shorter, high intensity training, you can do a 10-20 minute bodyweight workout.
However, if you’d like to include weight training, I would recommend doing this after you break your fast.
Strength training requires, well, strength. And for that type of strength, your body turns to glycogen (carbs) stored in your muscles. Fasting leads to depleted levels of glycogen, which means your body won’t be able to exert the strength or endurance that's required to see results.
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Not only can you potentially injure yourself, but you might negatively impact harm muscle growth since your body will break down protein instead to fuel the workout. When you do lift weights after Iftar, keep it shorter than you typically would, and go lighter if necessary.
At the end of the day, simply try to respect your body during Ramazan. Respect it by giving it the movement it craves, but also respect it by not pushing it too hard.