Wednesday 25 July 2012
Last Update 25 July 2012 10:25 am
Determined to become better and healthier this Ramadan, some people decide to start exercising and get in shape for Eid. For well-trained athletes, on the other hand, this time of the year poses a threat to their fitness.
Will fasting affect their performance? Is it possible to get fitter and stronger when abstaining from food and fluids for many hours? Or will the body start burning muscles in absence of any other fuel during the day? And is Ramadan a good time to start a workout plan, or is it going to do more harm than good?
There is little research on how fasting affects athletes’ performance. Many professionals who are going to compete during the London Olympics have decided to defer their fasts until a later date, while others claim to perform better during the holy month because they are more focused.
However, according to a Reuters article published in May, medical experts say a reduction of food intake during Ramadan could deplete an athlete’s liver and muscle glycogen stores. This is likely to lead to a drop in performance, particularly in sports requiring muscle strength.
The question is: Does fasting also affect people who are not competing on a professional level?
Simon Tahamata is a technical skill coach at the Al-Ahli Saudi Soccer Academy in Jeddah. He trains talented kids under 15.
According to him, training during Ramadan does not differ much from the rest of the year.
“The only adaptation we make is that we train shorter, 45 to 60 minutes instead of 90 minutes.”
He said for youngsters, Ramadan does not affect their performance.
“Most of them have no obligations during the day, so they sleep and wake up right before iftar (breaking of the fast). They just change their day and night rhythm.”
Similarly, Hatem Spetan, Western region area fitness manager at Fitness Time, said the fasting month does not need to negatively affect a person’s condition. Whether someone needs to make adaptations to his fitness regime depends on the workout time and their goal.
“A good time to exercise for someone who wants to lose weight is 60 to 90 minutes before sunset, so he can refuel after finishing the training.”
In this case, the intensity and duration of the training should be decreased. A 45-minute low to moderate intensity workout will suffice.
For well-trained athletes who want to improve their strength, endurance, or performance, on the other hand, this is a difficult time to train, as they will feel that their liver and muscle glycogen stores are depleted after a long day of fasting, making strenuous exercise nearly impossible.
For the latter, a good time to do sports is two to four hours after iftar.
Spetan said: “It is not recommendable to eat right before exercise, as the body will use the blood to digest the food, while the muscles also need oxygen-rich blood during workouts.”
He advised eating a low-fat meal with mainly complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholegrain pasta and whole wheat bread, as these will leave you full for a longer time. If you decide to work out during this time, you do not need to adapt your training, “as long as you don’t exhaust yourself and feel comfortable. Stop in case you feel dizzy or unwell.”
A third possibility is to have a very light iftar at sunset, then go to the gym or outside for some physical activity, followed by a bigger meal.
Spetan explained: “If you prefer to exercise right after sunset, you need fluids and fast sugar to hydrate your body and provide it with the energy needed.”
He said dates are ideal pre-workout nourishment, as they contain 70.6 percent carbohydrates and vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fresh juices are a good option, too, as they contain a good amount of sugar and prevent the body from dehydrating.
As for the post-workout meal, Spetan said there are two options. People who want to gain muscle and weight should eat protein immediately after working out.
He added: “Preferably before they take a shower, but not later than 30 minutes after their workout.
“If, on the other hand, your goal is weight loss, it is better to wait one to two hours after you work out. This way, you force your body to burn fat first to recover.”
For those who fear they might binge on fast foods and sugary snacks as a result of hunger pangs, Spetan advised eating a small, healthy snack with protein to make you feel full for a while. Examples are a banana, milk or yoghurt.
Whatever your goal, the meal you eat after exercising should contain a ratio of two to three parts carbohydrates to one part protein, Spetan added.
“This boosts glycogen storage and promotes faster muscle repair and growth in weight trainers.”
Good post-exercise meals are brown rice, bread, or pasta with chicken breast, fish, or lean meat. In addition, every meal should contain vegetables, the trainer stressed.
Although it is difficult to gain muscle during the holy month, it is not impossible, Spetan affirmed.
“To prevent muscle loss, it is important to eat something that contains both carbohydrates and protein for suhoor (the meal before you start your fast) — such as a wholegrain sandwich with turkey, some fruit, and a bowl of yogurt — while avoiding salt, as this will dehydrate you.”
Quoting the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) teaching on this, he advised having suhoor at the latest time possible. He added there is no need to be afraid your body will burn muscles when you are fasting.
“Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy. Once the glycogen stores are depleted, you will start burning fat. It is very difficult for the body to burn protein.”
According to Mariati Tajuddin, a physiotherapist and personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Jeddah, the holy month is the perfect time to start a fitness routine including a healthy diet, as Ramadan is all about mental and spiritual discipline.
She said: “Given that you need to control yourself from dawn to dusk, why not continue this during the night?”
It is important to realize that you don’t need to eat more than usual, she added.
“The body can handle up to a certain amount of carbohydrates and protein, depending on the person’s bodyweight. Any excess food will be stored in the body as fat.”
People should remember Prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh) advice to reserve a third of the stomach for food, another third for water and the remaining third for breathing, she added.
Tajuddin advised people who want to start exercising during Ramadan to set clear goals and write them down.
“Any beginner should start with cardio exercise like brisk walking, jogging, spinning or swimming, as the heart is the first muscle that needs to be trained.”
Depending on the fitness level, someone can start with a 1-km walk, increasing the time and/or distance every consecutive session.
Regardless of a person’s fitness level and goals, all three trainers advised people to undergo a medical test before starting an exercise routine.
In case of any questions or doubts while working out, ask your trainer for advice, added Spetan.
“Besides, keep into account that your body needs time to adapt to the Ramadan rhythm, so in the first few days take it slow while exercising.”
He adds that ideally a person should try to start making some changes five days before the start of the holy month. Although it is now too late to put this into practice, it certainly is valuable advice for next year.
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