Your Ramadan Fitness Regime
Staying fit while you’re fasting is tricky. But there’s no need to abandon your exercise regime during Ramadan – you just need to adapt it so you use your energy wisely, and don’t over exert yourself! Star Style quizzed fitness expert Dylan Eiffe on staying in shape safely throughout the Holy Month
Q. What happens to your metabolism when you are fasting?
A. When you fast, your body becomes a super-efficient energy storing machine. When you haven’t eaten for a long period of time, the body shifts into survival mode, slowing right down and conserving what energy it has. It craves food in large quantities, and when food finally arrives, it grabs on to it, and stores the energy as fuel.
Q. When is the best time to exercise if you are fasting throughout Ramadan?
A. It is important to ensure you are able to fit meals either side of the workouts; possibly only eating lightly beforehand to prevent feeling sick or lethargic.
A common myth is that exercising during the fasting period maintains or speeds up the metabolism whilst also burning fat. But exercising during the daytime fasting period is actually counterproductive! It can also create health issues and produce too much strain on the body, especially if working out heavily whilst fasting. Ultimately it will not provide the health, fitness and weight benefits you may be hoping for.
Whilst fasting, you are magnifying the survival mechanism process of storing energy, using up even more reserves and forcing your body into a deeper state of survival mode. Your body is very resourceful when forced to exercise without food, and will get the energy from somewhere – sadly, it is not your fat stores that are the first port of call! Instead, the body will break down proteins stored in your muscles, effectively cannibalises itself for the energy required. So while you may think that working out on an empty stomach is helping you lose weight, in fact, the reverse is happening. Muscle is the only thing in the body that burns calories throughout the whole day. So when fasting, conserve your muscle!
Q. Are there specific exercises that work better for my body and metabolism during Ramadan? I usually do a lot of cardiovascular work – should I change my routine?
A. Everybody is different, so if you are happy with your regular cardio routine and it is working for you, keep at it. In general, keep workouts modest by planning to simply maintain fitness and muscle, and not increase it.
Q. What kind of activity can I do before and after Iftar?
A. Due to the cannibal effect, I would not recommend exercising before Iftar, as you will not workout to your usual capacity. If you must exercise before Iftar, do it directly beforehand, focusing on workouts that require lower energy expenditure, like resistance, weight based workouts, or holistic classes, like yoga or pilates. You are likely to perform far better at these workouts and they will offer superior results.
After Iftar, you can do whatever session type you choose. However, depending on how heavily you eat and the time period following your food, many people feel very tired and lethargic. Aim to be super disciplined at Iftar, eating a more substantial meal following your workout later in the evening.
Q. It’s really hot this month, and I don’t want to train outside. I don’t belong to a gym, what should I do?
A. It’s a great idea to join a gym or group exercise facility so the weather is not a deciding factor on whether you exercise or not, because your health and happiness should be top of your priorities. It is also a good way to meet new people and make new friends.
If you find it difficult to gain access to a health and fitness facility, there are a myriad of fitness DVDs and website videos providing instructions and workouts which can be done in the home. Even celebrities rely upon workout DVDs to do in their hotel rooms when they are travelling and have no time to hit the gym, so you will be in good company!
Q. I am so hungry before Iftar that I often over eat. What should I do?
A. Aim to have a small Iftar with the view to a larger main meal later. This does require discipline, but it will mean you eat significantly less within a 24-hour period, with your waistline reaping the benefits. What’s more, you will feel more energetic and alert in the evening following Iftar.
If Iftar must be your main meal, eat very slowly. Even better, eat it in two parts. Eat a small plate before waiting 10 minutes and continuing with the meal.
Remember to keep pre-exercise meals small and leave as much time as possible following eating.
Q. Which foods should I eat and when should I eat them during Ramadan?
A. Following a period of fasting, your body craves fatty and calorific foods. Fat and fatty foods can be very satisfying and make you feel full, however it will also make you feel lethargic, and do nothing to help your waistline! Opt for foods with a low glycemic index (G.I.). These are friendlier to your blood sugar levels, meaning you get less of a sugar high, and less of the subsequent low when you eat them. Low GI foods like pulses (yep, that includes Iftar fave, hummus!) brown rice, sweet potatoes and lean meats are great at filling you up without loading you down with calories, and the GI diet is the weight maintenance plan of choice for many super slender and celebrities, from Queen Rania of Jordan to Kylie and Halle Berry.
Ramadan health tips
1. Plan Iftar to be a small meal.
2. Stay active, but only between meals.
3. When exercising, aim to maintain body shape and fitness, not improve it.
4. Eat slowly.
5. Opt for foods with a low glycemic index (G.I.).