Ramadan and exercise - Castle Gym

What is Ramadan and How Does it Affect Your Body?

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Ramadan is upon us!

Castle Gym is home to a multitude of members of all different ages, genders, religions, shapes and sizes.

We are currently in the period of Ramadan and would like to create awareness around it and explain how it can affect the body and how you might adjust your training during this time.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar. It is the ninth month of their religious year. It is a month of fasting, reflection and celebration.

From dawn till sunset the fasting of Ramadan must be adhered to. Eating and drinking can only take place whilst the sun is down.

Ramadan is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam:

Shahada (Faith)

The declaration of faith in one God (Allah) and His messenger.

Salah (Prayer)

The ritual prayer required of every Muslim five times a day.

Zakat (Almsgiving)

The act of giving a portion of a Muslim’s wealth to those in need.

Sawm (Fasting)

The act of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Hajj (Pilgrimage)

The sacred pilgrimage to Mecca required of every Muslim at least once in their lifetime.

The act of fasting in Islam is a compulsory act of worship, which Muslims believe brings them closer to God and strengthens their spiritual health and self-discipline.

When is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a period of 30 days. This year in the UK it started on April 12th and will last until May 13th. 

The date Ramadan starts and ends changes every year as the Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle. This means the date tends to change by around 10 days each year. 

Ramadan itself lasts from April 12th till May 11th. The following 2 days are for the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

How does it affect your body?

Studies on how fasting affects the body are mixed and the results show that the effects of Ramadan are different from person to person. As is the case with any diet or fast.

As you fast, your body regulates the release of correct hormones, so that you can experience what real hunger is. With the proper flow of hormones, you get fuller quicker which helps your body replenish your energy.

Research at Yale has found that being on an empty stomach helps you think and focus better.

Neuro-chemically, fasting increases levels of catecholamines, such as dopamine, which elevates your happiness and confidence while reducing your anxiety. 

What happens to your body when you fast for 16 hours?

This may lead to weight gain, digestive problems and the development of unhealthy eating habits. 16/8 intermittent fasting may also cause short-term negative side effects when you’re first getting started, such as hunger, weakness and fatigue though these often subside once you get into a routine.

So, while there are benefits to fasting it is something that can be difficult to adjust to so make sure you ease your body into it if you want to try or are new to practising Ramadan.

What training considerations should you make?

Whilst fasting doesn’t affect everyone in the same way we have some general tips on how to keep yourself safe and healthy should you wish to train during Ramadan.

The first thing to consider is hydration. One of the biggest factors, when you exercise, is sweat! While observing Ramadan you shouldn’t drink or eat during the hours of sunlight. 

The same goes for your energy and hunger levels. Depending on what type of exercise you do and how long you train for this will affect your calorie loss and your energy levels. 

Taking both these factors into account your body will likely benefit most from training just before sunset hours so that you can appropriately rehydrate and replenish your energy with your evening meal.

Secondly, if you’re not used to the effects of fasting during Ramadan you may want to consider reducing the intensity and/or duration of your training sessions. 

Your body will struggle during the day and if you’re not used to fasting you’re likely to feel weaker, more tired and possibly mentally drained too. 

It may even be worth considering a gym buddy to keep tabs on you and to spot you to make sure you’re training safely and within your capabilities.

Finally, take your time with getting back on track to your training goals once Ramadan is over. You may have lost weight, you may have lost muscle, or you may not feel it affected you too much. 

However, fasting will undoubtedly have had an effect on your physical and mental state so remember that when you return to your usual routine there’s no rush! 

Don’t push your body in a short period of time just to try and get back to where you were before the 30 days, ease back in. 

Speaking from experience

We spoke to Mustansar Iqbal, a practising Muslim and Castle Gym member, on how he finds training whilst fasting for Ramadan.

“I have been practising Islam since birth. I have a strong connection to my faith. What you believe in becomes very important to you and is a big part of your life emotionally. 

I started fasting around the age of 10 or 11. I wanted to fast after seeing those around me doing it, I could see the initial struggles, but then I admired the strength in mind and body that they have, I was so passionate about this I knew I wanted to begin practising Ramadan myself.

Ramadan first and foremost to me is about sacrifice and feeling the hunger and pain of millions of others in the world who aren’t as fortunate as others. 

The experiences you feel during Ramadan help to give me patience and resistance to feelings of hunger and helps with my self-discipline.

I also save the extra money I would have spent on my food shopping during Ramadan and I donate it to charities that focus on providing for those in need. This would roughly be £50 a month for me.

Fasting is also important for my health. I feel it helps me to remove toxic foods from my life for a month.

My normal diet is sustained when I am allowed to eat. By this I mean I don’t alter the way I eat too much other than cutting out bad, unhealthy foods. 

I try to eat fruits and dates and regular Asian foods from my usual diet. I also try to eat light food as it can be harmful to the body and stomach to try and consume a large, heavy meal in an attempt to make up for the fasting during the day.

To me, Ramadan doesn’t affect my energy levels or my exercise routine. I’ve been practising my whole life so my discipline is there and is strong. I often prefer exercising on an empty stomach, I feel lighter and stronger in my mind. 

I found that I prefer to go to the gym in the evening. This is so I can rehydrate and eat my meal after exercising to replenish my energy. 

Ramadan does affect my weight, I do tend to lose weight but not dangerously. To me, I don’t even really feel the effects of fasting. Personally, I don’t feel any less able to train during Ramadan. The weight I lose doesn’t feel unhealthy or like it affects my energy or wellbeing. I can easily regain it again after Ramadan.

My advice for any new Muslims or those new to fasting is to try to practice fasting before Ramadan. With Ramadan being a 30 day period it is very intense to go into if you haven’t even tried a single day. You will feel much worse and will likely suffer heavier impacts if you don’t practice.

It’s more about psychological willpower than the physical effects. Practising for a shorter period of time before Ramadan will give your body the chance to adjust and ease into the process of fasting. The real test will be in your strength of mind.

Your body can cope with fasting, physically if you’re eating well during the hours of sundown you will be okay. It’s more about the discipline of during the day resisting the temptation of food and drink.

I would definitely recommend trying fasting at some point in your lives. It helps remove unwanted toxins in your body and could help you with health issues if done correctly. 

You will also be more understanding of those who do practice Ramadan. Finally, your discipline and strength of mind will also improve from trying this. I wish all those fasting for Ramadan good health and peace.”

It was fantastic to gain insight from Mustansar about this. We hope the advice we have given will help you stay safe and healthy during your fast, whether it’s for Ramadan or not.

If you want help on nutrition and how to keep your body fit and healthy be sure to talk to us.

If you want to go one step further you can hire a personal trainer who will tailor fitness sessions and nutrition plans to your lifestyle and training goals.

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