Ramadan & Weight Lifting: How to Maintain Muscle & Strength

Ramadan Weight Lifting
Ramadan & Weight Lifting. Image credit: Noushad Akambadam.

Ramadan 2009 starts August 21st and lasts until September 20th. During this period, practicing Muslims fast from dawn till dusk. This is a complete fast: you eat nothing, but also don’t drink. Not even water.

Weight lifting can be hard during Ramadan. Especially since it falls during the warmer summer months this year and the following ones. This post will teach you how to train and what to eat for best results during Ramadan.

What Is Ramadan?
The 9th month in the Islamic calender is the Ramadan. All practicing Muslims drink and eat nothing from dawn till dusk. The goal of fasting is to teach you patience, discipline, modesty & spirituality.

Ramadan stresses prayers, fasting, charity and self-accountability. You want to gain awareness and empathy for the poor. Practicing Muslims pray 5 times per day, including at dawn and dusk.

The Islamic calender is 11-12 days shorter than the solar year. This is because it’s a lunar calender, based on moon cycles. That’s why the Ramadan migrates through the seasons. Example:

  • Ramadan 2009: 21st August – 20th September
  • Ramadan 2010: 10th August – 9th September
  • Ramadan 2011: 1st August – 30th August
  • Ramadan 2012: 20th July – 19th August
  • Ramadan 2013: 9th July – 8th August

Ramadan during the summer is harder: longer fasts and shorter feeds. Weight lifting gets harder too because you can’t drink during the fast. And your nights are shorter which can cause sleep deprivation.

Common Mistakes During Ramadan.
Lack of planning is the biggest mistake you can do during Ramadan. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Make a plan for your diet, training, job, sleep. More errors to avoid:

  • Not Training. You won’t lose much muscle & strength if you stop weight lifting during Ramadan. But you’ll tend to stick to your diet less. And this can cause more muscle/strength loss and fat gains than not lifting.
  • Not Eating Healthy. Lots of people gain fat during Ramadan. The main reason for this is that a lot of the Ramadan foods are high in sugars & fats. Example: harira soup, often served with bread/dates.
  • Not Eating Enough. Food is energy. If you don’t eat enough you’ll lack energy at the gym and won’t recover well. You must focus on caloric dense foods to get the most out of your feeding window.
  • Not Sleeping Enough. Short nights can cause sleep deprivation. This can kill your motivation to go to the gym. Consider naps.

Popular Fasting Myths.
I highly recommend you get a copy of Eat Stop Eat. It has all the research regarding fasting and its benefits. Some myths:

  • Metabolism Slows Down. Studies show that fasting doesn’t decrease your metabolism. And more frequent meals don’t increase it neither.
  • Muscle & Strength Loss. Fasting doesn’t cause muscle loss. You’ll most likely feel stronger & more aggressive training fasted.
  • Low Energy. You’ll have energy if you eat enough during your feeding window. Productivity will increase since you’re not wasting time on food.

When To Lift Weights During Ramadan.
Train fasted: 2 hours before you break your fast. This way you can eat several times post workout to help recovery. You also maximize your feeding window since you don’t spend it training.

You should feel stronger and more aggressive training fasted. If you don’t: you’re not eating enough food during the feed. Or it’s psychological.

Predators in the wild only hunt when they are hungry.

– Ori Hofmekler, The Warrior Diet.

How to Lose Fat During Ramadan. Fasting improves fat loss. You can get away with more carbs than you would usually, without gaining fat. Tips:

  • Get Stronger. Strength training prevents muscle loss. Keep lifting weights and work at getting stronger. Check StrongLifts 5×5.
  • Eat Healthy. Eat whole, unprocessed foods 90% of the time. Ground round, chicken breast, tuna cans, oats, rice, pasta, bananas, eggs, …
  • Drink Water. Avoid coffee & green tea: they’re diuretics. Drink water to avoid dehydration. Aim for 1 gallon between dawn & dusk.
  • Avoid Junk Food. Lots of people gain weight during Ramadan because they gorge themselves with foods that aren’t healthy. Avoid.
  • Avoid Cardio. You can’t drink water during the fast so cardio or HIIT is a bad idea. Stick with lifting only until Ramadan ends.

How to Gain Weight During Ramadan
. Gorging yourself with food goes against the spirit of Ramadan. Meet your daily caloric needs but don’t be a pig. Tips:

  • GOMAD. Drink 4 liters whole milk per day. Spread your intake between dawn and dusk. Read the GOMAD guide for more info.
  • Eat Caloric Dense Foods. White paste is the best food you can choose: 250g contains 1000kcal. Try also: rice, mixed nuts, bananas.
  • Get Stronger. The fastest way to build muscle mass is to get stronger. Squat heavy & frequently. Check the StrongLifts 5×5 routine.
  • Make Liquid Meals. Digest faster than solid meals. Drink lots of whole milk. Make smoothies: banana, oats, plain fat free yogurt, milk.
  • Drink Water. Milk is 87% water so you won’t need to drink that much water on top of your daily gallon of whole milk.
  • Use Fitday. Track everything. Aim for +5000kcal/day. 1 gallon whole milk and 500g pasta per day equals 4500kcal.

Ramadan & StrongLifts 5×5
. Training fasted works if you eat well during the feeding window. Thirst can be a problem if you’re used to drinking a lot or if it’s warm. Best is to cut down your workout time. Tips:

  • Train Fasted. Train 2 hours before breaking your fast. This way you can eat several meals post workout to help your recovery.
  • Switch to 3×5. Do 3×5 instead of 5×5 on all exercises (Deadlift 1×5). Keep doing the StrongLifts 5×5 routine 3x/week.
  • Drop The Assistance Exercises. Do Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Press, Bench Press, Inverted Rows only during the Ramadan period.

Example Ramadan Training & Diet Plan.
The length of fast/feed changes as the days go by and depending on the season. In 2009 these are the starting and ending times of Ramadan in Brussels, Belgium:

  • First day: 21st August 2009: 4:22am ““ 8:57pm
  • Last day: 20th September 2009: 5:32am ““ 7:50pm

Ramadan gets easier as the days go by since the fast gets 2 hours shorter. Sleep deprivation can be problem and will kill your motivation. Consider naps. Example schedule during Ramadan:

  • 7pm: lift weights. 3-4 compound exercises for 1 hour max.
  • 9pm: break fast. Proteins & carbs. Pasta, tomato sauce, ground round.
  • 10pm: proteins & carbs. Example: tuna, brown rice, pineapple.
  • 11pm: light pre-bed meal. Cottage cheese, berries, ground flax seeds.
  • 11:30pm: bedtime
  • 3:30am: breakfast: eggs, veggies, meat. Back in bed after 1st prayer.
  • 7am: wake up, get ready for work
  • 1pm: 30mins nap
  • 5pm: 1 hour nap pre-workout

While Ramadan is challenging this summer with the short feeding times, don’t let it get into your head. You can progress regardless. I won’t do Ramadan since I’m atheist. But I often fast for 24h once a week. And training is going great.

More Reading

  • Eat Stop Eat. Contains the latest research on fasting and debunks all the myths surrounding it.
  • Warrior Diet. On this diet you fast for 20h, eat for 4 hours, all year through. This is the closest you get to Ramadan.

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