Eating nothing from dawn-to-dusk - sounds like a nightmare, right? Fasting during ramadan is for sure a mentally-challenging experience. However, with the right planning, Ramadan can result in a more mentally focused, disciplined and stronger athlete. We asked a group of experienced fasters what they’ve learned over the years and uncovered 5 tips to optimise your training and nutrition routine to keep you energized during the month of Ramadan.
Can Ramadan make an athlete stronger?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the islamic calendar, and for muslims, the most important month of the year. It gives people the chance to learn and control their desires and show empathy in their environment. This is done through fasting, which is an exercise in self-restraint. It’s seen as a way to physically and spiritually detoxify by kicking impulses like morning coffee, smoking and midday snacking. During Ramadan there is, spiritually, a better mood. Athletes in particular can benefit from fasting during Ramadan because it helps them develop the self-control, mindfulness and discipline required to become a stronger athlete. Still, Ramadan is no walk in the park. Those who have done it before, all agree that it’s a challenge and a learning process. To get the most out of it, there are a few important things you need to consider:
1. Planning is everything
The key is careful planning and structuring. Plan what your month will look like and think about what meals you will have for Iftar and Suhoor as well as how long these take to prepare. This is especially important so you know when to wake up and don’t miss out on valuable resting time. Our group of fasters suggest the following foods:
(pre-dawn meal eaten at around 3/3.30 am as preparation for the fasting day)
- Healthy fats: nut butter, avocado
- Protein: beans & eggs
- Oatmeal with dates or other dried fruits, honey, maple syrup
- Fruit & veg: especially with high water content like cucumber or orange
- Foods that make you feel full: Sweet potato, fatty fish, sprouted grains
(the meal that breaks the fast)
- First break the fast with dates and water with lemon
- Foods rich in protein: tuna, tofu, lentils, eggs
- Foods high in fibre: like chickpeas and lentils
- Vitamin rich foods like cauliflower, broccoli, quinoa and seafood
- 1 - 2 full glasses of water during Iftar and at least 2 litres during the night between Iftar and Suhoor. Calculate your water intake and aim to drink one glass of water every hour, so you don’t end up consuming too much at once and then spend most of the day having to go to the toilet.
- Another good idea is to prepare a clear shopping list so you don’t have to visit the grocery shops during the fasting period - we all know what happens if you go food shopping when you’re hungry.
2. Eat slower
When you do eat, eat slowly and take your time to enjoy it. Concentrate on every mouthful and try to chew at least 40 times before you swallow. The smaller the food particles are, the more easily they can be digested by the rest of the system and also the more your small intestine can absorb nutrients from them. Eating slower will also makes you feel fuller for longer.
3. Be more mindful
When you finally do break the fast, it’s easy to lose control and eat everything you find. But that’s not what Ramadan is about. First of all, your stomach is not ready for so much food after not eating anything all day long and second of all, you should take this as an opportunity to be more mindful about your eating habits and not take food and water for granted. Break the fast with dates, lemon water or a light soup and only once your body has digested this and you feel hydrated again should you eat a proper meal.
4. Be strategic with your workout plan
It’s important you stay active during Ramadan to maintain your health and fitness level. Studies even show that men who continue to train during the fasting period can lower their body fat percentage due to an increased utilisation of fat as energy during exercise and when resting. Although you shouldn’t stop training altogether, you may need to rethink your usual training routine. Do you normally exercise in the morning? This should be avoided to prevent dehydration and loss of energy throughout the day. Instead, our fasters suggest you train one hour before breaking the fast. You might have less energy but it’s a good way to keep yourself busy and your mind occupied during the final stage of the fasting period - also known to be the hardest. Another good time to train is at midnight if you don’t have to work the next day. You will be more rested and have more power to perform. If you already feel dehydrated you should avoid long cardio sessions if you can. And always remember to listen to your body! Don’t push yourself too hard and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get a PB - recovery is likely to suffer and possibilities of injuries are high.
5. Take naps and cold showers
During Ramadan, you’ll want to savour every last drop of energy you have in the tank. If you can, try going for naps to save your energy or take a cold showers to wake yourself up if you begin to feel drowsy.