Effective nutrition, hydration and sleep are essential to optimise physical and mental health during the holy month of Ramadan. It becomes more of a challenge to maintain these during the fasting period due to altered meal times, changes in sleep routines and maintaining work commitments. The effects of fasting are dependent not only on the length of the fast but also on the type of sport, the environment and the individual. In individual sports, it is easier to manage training times, but in team sports, it tends to be a bit trickier. The negative effects of fasting on performance are mixed and recent studies have actually shown that high-level athletes can maintain performance during Ramadan if food, fluid intake, and sleep are appropriately managed. These three components are interchangeable.

Changes in nutrition (meal times and meal composition) during fasting affects the ability of the body to synthesise tryptophan (amino acids) which produces serotonin and melatonin. Both these chemicals are helpful in promoting sleep. To counteract such effects, it has been suggested that Low Glycemic Index (LGI) foods be consumed during the suhoor meal. LGI foods include green vegetables, legumes (chickpeas, lentils) and most fruits. Combining these foods with a good source of protein such as milk, yoghurt, beans, fish or meat will ensure a stable level of glucose in your blood so you are less likely to feel hungry the next day.

Dehydration can increase heart rate and decrease the ability to concentrate. As hydration is restricted to the hours of darkness during Ramadan it is important that you choose wisely on the type of drinks you consume. Try to avoid large amounts of caffeine and keep yourself well hydrated between iftar and suhoor. Keeping a bottle of water with you and drinking regularly will help you maintain this. This will also ensure you are well hydrated before the start of the next fast. Another good point to note is that hydration can also come from fluid rich fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, oranges, blueberries and tomatoes.

Sleep deficits have been shown to have an adverse effect on well being and performance. Fasting produces significant hormonal, metabolic and inflammatory changes which are linked to sleep disturbances, energy deficiency and fatigue. One way in which to combat this during the fasting period is to try and have short naps during the day to make up for any sleep deficits. This will help reduce these negative effects and allow you to train.

Ramadan is not a time to push yourself or start new exercise regimes of high-intensity training. The focus should be on maintaining your fitness, creating a sustainable exercise routine and concentrating on nutrient-dense and water-rich foods. Prioritising strength training over cardiovascular workouts will help slow down the process of muscle loss while fasting. Resistance training helps to preserve muscle mass, so opt for bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups. If you are going to introduce a new exercise, try something like Pilates or yoga. They will help maintain muscle mass but are of lower intensity and require less recovery time.

Exercising in a fasted state is not an easy feat, especially when you add in daily stressors and warmer weather. Finding the best time for you will be a major key to keeping your exercise routine safe and sustainable. Exercising before iftar or between iftar and suhoor are good times as you can eat and drink after the exercise and replenish food stores and rehydrate before the next fast. Be kind to yourself, Ramadan is a time of religious reflection. If your mind and body don’t feel up to exercising increase your rest days and reduce the number of weekly training times.

  • Ramadan Kareem!!

Our top 10 training tips

1. Training late in the day, just before sunset or between iftar and suhoor.

2. Adjust the intensity of training to optimise training response.

3. Keep endurance training to under one hour.

4. Focus on strength/resistance training to maintain muscle mass.

5. Increase the proportion of low-glycaemic-index foods.

6. Daytime napping ensures adequate sleep volume during the month of Ramadan.

7. Avoid high levels of caffeine, salt.

8. Consider electrolyte supplements to help replenish the loss of essential minerals.

9. Increase the number of rest days.

10. Be kind to yourself. Ramadan is a time of religious reflection. Take one day at a time and listen to your body.

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