How to build muscle during Ramadan?
Ramadan 2016 is around the corner (6th of June). If you are a practicing Muslim you probably know that building muscle during Ramadan is not easy. In contrast to other types of fasting, Ramadan is fairly long, prohibits water, and people tend to be very strict about it.
Alert: anecdote time! I never knew how hard it can be to fast and build muscle at the same time. I happened to meet a really nice Muslim guy during Ramadan around 2 years ago who was serious about building muscle, but lived around an hour from his work.
He was so exhausted at the end of the day that he had to rent a new place closer to his work and gym just so he would have enough energy to do his workout! Are you also wondering what to do to build the physique you want while fasting from sunrise to sunset? Many people struggle with this.
And the main reason is their lack of strategy, rooted in the lack of knowledge. The fact is, however, that fasting is actually in many ways beneficial. Fasting for instance brings your body to a catabolic state (a state of breakdown). In addition, some studies show that working out during a fasting state almost doubles the rate of muscle growth. But it's easy to see why people encounter hurdles along the way. The problems are usually caused by people's rigid habits and limited information about how to minimise the negative consequences of fasting. The main adverse effects are dehydration and lack of energy caused by low-calorie intake. Here we'll look at 5 ways to build muscle during Ramadan.
1. Building muscle during Ramadan starts with the right food
Aim for slow releasing carb foods in your diet. The goal is to eat energy sources with slow releasing carbs, with a low glycemic index that will give you energy throughout the day. In addition to your normal protein sources, you can go for healthy grains such as oat bran, oats, whole-grain pumpernickel bread or brown rice. You can combine this with non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, broccoli or asparagus. Don't forget sweet potatoes, quinoa and healthy nuts and nut butter (ideally organic), and figs and dates with your post-workout meal.
2. Keep your workouts to 30-45 minutes
One of your main goals during Ramadan should be muscle preservation. However, instead of hypertrophy training, aim for strength shorter routines. Try mid-range strength workouts for a change. These include 30-45min workouts consisting of multi-join movements at low-to-mid frequency reps. Go for bent over rows, deadlifts and complex pushing exercises such as bench press or military press.
These exercises are less likely to lead to fatigue associated with longer workouts or cardio and aerobic exercising. You won't have many opportunities throughout the day to stack on carbs. Therefore, try to avoid getting into caloric deficit during Ramadan.
3. Carb up also for the night
Some people advocate avoiding carbs at night and before sleep. I was never a fan of this, and if you are like me, good luck trying to fall asleep on an empty stomach! Make sure you eat well before bed in addition to your post-workout meal. Just like any other meal, make sure to include plenty of carbs but also a variety of other healthy choices necessary for muscle building. Having protein (especially casein) 30 minutes before bed will increase your muscle synthesis, and will allow your body to absorb the nutrients during your natural fasting state (sleeping).
The fact is, that the whole concept of ''no carbs before bed'' is rooted in the idea of less energy expenditure during night. However, studies show that the energy expenditure is roughly the same in comparison to not doing anything while being awake. So don't be afraid of those late night carbs, especially not during long fasting periods such as Ramadan.
4. Get enough sleep
Sleep is absolutely vital for energy and for building muscle. If you aim for building muscle during Ramadan, getting sleep is probably one of the most important things you can do outside of the gym. Getting enough sleep will ensure your muscle tissue recovery, and the recovery of your brain. It's likely you'll do more than just sit in one place while being awake. Therefore sleeping will bring along lower energy expenditure, thus you can preserve more energy you absorbed through food.
How can you squeeze in extra sleep during Ramadan? Try to get at least 1-2 hours of sleep after breakfast (suhoor). Breakfast before sunrise means very early breakfast no matter where you are in the world. Having those few hours of extra sleep will give you extra energy for the day. Same applies for the night time. If you have a regular job ending at around 5pm, it's likely you will have still around 4 hours until iftar (meal). Use this time to get extra sleep, and gain energy before your workout.
5. Train towards the end of the day
Training towards the end of the day will have a number of benefits. If you decide to exercise in a fasting state, you will maximize your post-exercise protein synthesis and recovery. If you decide to exercise after iftar, you will gain the necessary energy to push harder and perform to your maximum capacity.
Either way, if you are able to get some extra sleep prior to your workout, you will benefit from extra energy and from the ability to gain nutrients from you post-workout meal. Exercising in the evening will also allow you to snack on protein bars or sip on your pre/post-workout shake during the exercise. Don't forget to eat some simple carbs such as dates and figs with your post-workout meal to increase the speed of protein absorption.
Wrapping it up
Ramadan, like any prolonged fasting period, can cause problems to those wishing to build muscle. Contrary to the popular belief, fasting is in many ways beneficial in terms of muscle growth and fat loss. We bring our body to a catabolic state and enable weight loss. Despite this, Ramadan is a very prolonged and dehydrating experience causing a lot of physical and sometimes mental strain.
Being able to eat properly and planning training, sleep and nutrition in advance will allow you to preserve and build muscle. The first few days of transitioning from normal eating habits to fasting are not easy. However, this information and strategy will equip you to meet your goals regardless of the time of the year. Building muscle during Ramadan doesn't have to be so difficult anymore!