Ramadan: An Islamic Sacred Month of Fasting
Ramadan, an esteemed holy month in Islam, requires Muslims worldwide to partake in a daily fast from sunrise to sunset. Undoubtedly, this period brings about genuine experiences of hunger and thirst. When Ramadan aligns with the summer season (where daylight hours are longer), adherents of this practice abstain from food and drink, including water, until late into the night.
Individuals who choose to engage in fasting during Ramadan typically rise before dawn to enjoy a pre-fast meal called suhoor or sehri. The meal consumed after sunset is known as iftar. Throughout the night, there are no restrictions on the amount of food or drink one may consume.
For many Muslims, the challenge lies in maintaining their regular daily activities, including maintaining a healthy exercise routine, while fasting. Is it safe to continue exercising when there is no nourishment to fuel the body and when hydration is restricted? Here, two experts provide insights into the safety of working out while fasting and offer guidelines to bear in mind if you opt for physical activity during your fasting period.
Exercising While Fasting: A Safe Practice
According to Dr. Aaliya Yaqub, a board-certified physician and wellness expert specializing in internal medicine, exercising while fasting, be it during Ramadan or another fasting regimen such as intermittent fasting, is generally safe in most cases. In fact, research even suggests that there may be an unexpected advantage to engaging in physical activity while fasting. Dr. Yaqub explains that “fasting during Ramadan may be associated with an increase in human growth hormone (HGH), which is produced in the pituitary gland in the brain.” HGH plays a crucial role in cell repair, metabolism, muscle growth, and exercise performance. Moreover, it can aid in quicker recovery from injuries and illnesses.
Dua Aldasouqi, a registered dietitian and the founder of A Muslim Dietitian, confirms that it is indeed possible to remain physically active or even excel as an elite athlete while engaging in fasting. However, she emphasizes the importance of being aware and considerate of certain aspects.
For some individuals, it may be necessary to consult with a physician before deciding to exercise while fasting, particularly those with chronic medical conditions like diabetes and individuals taking specific medications such as diuretics and blood pressure medication. Such cases require extra caution to prevent electrolyte imbalances and rapid dehydration.
If you’re experiencing any kind of sickness, it’s preferable to consult with your physician before initiating a fitness regimen, particularly if you intend to perform vigorous workouts,” she suggests. Workouts that involve a higher heart rate and intensity necessitate carbohydrates for rapid energy. Without an adequate amount of carbohydrates, you are more likely to feel fatigued, weak, and achy, and become dehydrated. The outcome? This can leave you lightheaded and potentially queasy, which can impede your focus and ability to carry out exercises, thus increasing your risk of injury. (See more: Should You Be Doing Fasted Cardio?)
In addition to determining whether working out while fasting is feasible for you, your healthcare provider can also assist you in developing a plan to stay hydrated and safely exercise on an empty stomach during Ramadan. (It’s important to note that working out while fasting should not be utilized as a method for weight loss.)
How to Manage the Risk of Dehydration
Anyone who observes fasting will want to take precautions to prevent dehydration, but this is particularly crucial for those who engage in challenging workouts (e.g. HIIT).
“Considering that there’s a shorter time frame for consuming liquids [during Ramadan], it’s extremely important that individuals consume as much hydration as possible after breaking their fast and in the morning while preparing their first meal of the day,” states Dr. Yaqub. “The standard recommendation is eight glasses of water per day. If you can consume six to eight glasses or the equivalent of that, you’re in pretty good shape.”
However, unforeseen circumstances may arise, and some days you may simply be unable to consume enough H2O before sunrise — perhaps you’re already running behind schedule for work or maybe you got stuck at the office until late at night. If you are unable to sufficiently hydrate, forego intense exercise and opt for a walk to fulfill your daily movement requirement instead, recommends Dr. Yaqub.
In addition to maintaining adequate fluid intake, it is also important to prioritize electrolyte consumption if you’re interested in working out while fasting, emphasizes Dr. Yaqub. Just in case you didn’t know, electrolytes are essential minerals — for example, sodium, potassium, calcium — that are vital for numerous bodily functions, including maintaining the balance of fluids inside and outside your cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In other words, electrolytes ensure that sufficient H2O remains within and restrict the amount that exits your body, which would otherwise lead to dehydration.
“Fruits that have a high water content [e.g. watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries] will assist in ensuring you obtain those electrolytes,” states Aldasouqi.
Savoring energy beverages, like Gatorade, can also assist in replenishing electrolytes, but these drinks are frequently abundant in supplements and sweeteners. (Excessive amounts of sweeteners, for instance, can not only induce variations in blood sugar, but can also result in distension, unease, and even muscle spasms — all of which can detrimentally affect your capacity to safely engage in physical activity on an unfilled stomach.)
I typically advise diluting [sports drinks],” remarks Aldasouqi. “You can also create your own [electrolyte-boosting beverage] with 2 to 3 cups of water, half to a whole lemon squeezed, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.”
So how do you determine if you’re experiencing dehydration? “One of the most common indications [of dehydration] is an increase in your heart rate,” says Dr. Yaqub. “Occasionally, individuals will begin to feel feeble, lightheaded, or nauseous, have difficulty concentrating, and observe [that] their efficiency decreases.” While any of these symptoms are sufficient to justify contacting your doctor, if you encounter significant agony or faint, you should especially seek assistance.
Finest (and Worst) Workouts for Exercising While Fasting
When it comes to exercising while fasting for Ramadan, avoid intensifying your workout routine at the gym, suggests Dr. Yaqub. “I understand that’s not always possible if [for instance] you’re an athlete, but for the average person, it’s probably a good idea to steer clear of high-intensity workouts while you’re fasting.”
Instead, choose moderate physical activity, “which has been proven to be safe for the average healthy individual,” adds Aldasoqi. “‘Moderate’ essentially means engaging in an activity that gets your heart pumping, but not to the extent where you cannot hold a conversation.”
Other suitable options for exercising on an empty stomach are lower-intensity activities, such as relaxed swimming, yoga (excluding hot yoga due to obvious dehydrating reasons), as well as Pilates, according to Dr. Yaqub. And if you’re someone who doesn’t regularly engage in physical activity (no judgement!), consider waiting until after the holiday or your fast to begin incorporating more exercise.
When to Exercise While Fasting
“The absolute safest, though probably the least practical, is to do it [during] the non-fasting hours, so in the night,” says Aldasouq.”For many individuals, that’s not very practical, especially when Ramadan falls during the spring/summer [and the sun sets late in the day].”
Another option? Fit in a workout right before breaking the fast. “Yes, you’ll be at your most depleted at that point, but it’s also closest to when you’ll replenish and rehydrate everything,” explains Aldasouq. (
What to Consume Before and After Fasting
If you’re determined to exercise while fasting, consuming the appropriate foods — along with, of course, staying hydrated by drinking ample fluids — before sunrise and after sundown can make a significant difference.
Focusing on protein-rich foods is a highly recommended strategy in order to have sustained and prolonged energy,” states Dr. Yaqub, who identifies nuts, eggs, avocado, fish, and chicken as excellent choices for individuals fasting. “Ensure that you meet your protein requirements during the month of Ramadan — even though you’re fasting, your protein needs remain the same,” she emphasizes. “You simply need to fit them into a shorter time period.”
Additionally, it is important to include a sufficient amount of fibrous foods in your diet, such as oatmeal, lentils, and fruits and vegetables, along with other high-fiber options. “Fiber slows down the process of digesting and absorbing food, providing sustained and lasting energy,” previously explained Sarah Romotsky, R.D., in an article published by Shape. However, feeling full and energized for extended periods of time is just one of the many advantages of this nutrient. Soluble fiber, in particular, forms a gel-like substance in your gastrointestinal tract, slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates and preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. And the more stable your blood sugar, the less likely you are to experience the ups and downs of energy associated with it.
On the other hand, “individuals who consume high-carbohydrate meals during sehri/suhoor are likely at a disadvantage throughout the day,” explains Dr. Yaqub.
When it comes to calorie intake, most individuals do not need to extensively consider this aspect, even if they engage in physical activity — unless you are a professional athlete or have a history of disordered eating, as stated by Aldasouqi. (And if you fall into either or both of these categories, it is advisable to consult a nutritionist to develop the most suitable diet plan aligned with your objectives, whether it involves exercising while fasting during Ramadan or in other circumstances.)
And If You Choose to Forego Exercise While Fasting for Ramadan…
That’s perfectly acceptable, according to Aldasouqi, who adds that many individuals opt to prioritize spirituality over fitness during the month of Ramadan. If you desire to take a break from the gym, it is recommended to gradually resume your exercise routine after Ramadan concludes, as suggested by Dr. Yaqub.