Exercising during Ramadan

Is it safe to exercise during Ramadan? Yes, says Health24’s Fitness Expert Habib Noorbhai. In fact, he says it should remain an important part of daily life.

Many people are nervous to exercise during the month of Ramadan, but Health24’s Fitness Expert, Habib Noorbhai (Biokineticist), says that if you follow certain guidelines it is perfectly safe. Here are his tips.

The importance of exercise during Ramadan

Noorbhai says that there is research showing that fasting for 30 consecutive days without exercise can result in a regression of strength and fitness. “Individuals who train a minimum of three days a week for 11 months, but avoid training during the month of Ramadan, often face a setback with regard to cardiovascular and resistance adaptations.”

According to him, it is ‘imperative’ that Muslims maintain their exercise routine during Ramadan, and he points out that if you stop exercising for a month it’s equal to losing four months of exercise.

However, he adds that one of the tricks is to maintain your current programme and not intensify your exercise routine (increase in weights, sets, repetitions, speed or distance) during Ramadan.

“Many Muslims find it difficult to exercise during Ramadan, but it’s important to note that this is also a month of patience, sacrifice – and exercising during Ramadan is purely ‘mind over matter’,” he says.

The exceptions

There are some exceptions to this, though, and if you suffer from any chronic diseases, injury or complication, Noorbhai advises that you continue to exercise – with caution.

In particular, he advises that people with type 1 diabetes should not exercise at all, as this can upset their glucose levels profoundly. Type 2 diabetics, however, can continue to exercise at a low-intensity level, but for a maximum of 30 minutes, focusing on aerobic and strength training.

If you suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension, you can also continue to exercise, but at low-intensity, or around 75% of your maximum heart rate. For example: a 60-year old woman’s maximum heart rate would be 160 beats per minute and 75% of 160 is 120 beats per minute. So, a 60-year old hypertensive woman should not exercise during Ramadan at a heart rate of more than 120 beats per minute. These maximum heart rates depend on age, gender and health risk factors.

If you’re recovering from an injury or any other health complications, Noorbhai advises that, when fasting, you exercise at low-intensity for a maximum of 30 minutes, as your body will be using more energy during the recovery phase of injury or pain. This is because not enough energy and glycogen stores are retained for more than 30 minutes when exercising.

n addition, he says that people with chronic diseases or complications often don’t take their medication while fasting, which makes it difficult to manage sugar and cholesterol levels and blood pressure during Ramadan.

When to exercise

So when should you fit in exercise? Noorbhai says the ideal time to train is 90 minutes before sunset (iftar).

“After a moderate exercise session, you will not be able to adequately replenish the glycogen stores you burnt during exercise, thus resulting in symptoms like dizziness and nausea. This time is ideal because you’ll be breaking your fast soon afterwards and replacing the energy and glycogen you lost when exercising.”

Here are some of Noorbhai’s top tips for exercising during Ramadan:

Terminate exercise immediately when feeling dizzy or nauseous

  • Plan when to sleep and when to wake up

  • Consider naps and schedule rest as your body experiences more fatigue during Ramadan

  • Have a ‘working lunch’ (since you don’t have to eat), then arrange with your boss to leave an hour earlier at the end of the day.This will allow you to get in some time for training before you break your fast.

  • Intermittent exercises such as Action Soccer or cricket after sunset and evening prayer is a good way to maintain physical activity and fitness

  • Endurance, plyometrics, speed, and agility training should be avoided completely.

Diet and hydration guidelines

Exercise during fasting can be physically taxing. Noorbhai recommends the following guidelines with regard to your diet and hydration during this time:

  • Try to consume 6 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight

  • Eat 1.2 to 1.2g of protein per kg of body weight

  • Your fat intake should be 20 to 30% of your total energy intake

  • Be sure to drink sufficient fluids to prevent a water deficit

  • Hydrate often during the night, after sunset and evening prayers take along a bottle of water.

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