I’ve been Ramadaning while keeping up a workout schedule probably for the past three
years. I can’t remember what I did while I was in Egypt. If I did work out in Egypt during Ramadan, it will definitely have been at night after I broke the fast.
Since I moved to the UK, I’ve been getting more and more serious about my training. That means that it is very inconvenient to completely stop training during the one month of the year when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. A lot of fitness can be lost in a month.
But Ramadan follows a lunar calendar, and what that means is that in the few past and coming years, it’s happening in the summer months. That’s a real issue when you live in northern Europe. According to the timetable I’m following, it means I can’t eat or drink (yes, not even water) from about 3 AM till 9:30 PM. Also, the gyms in my area all shut around 10 PM and all the group training activities are held some time during the day.
So I’ve been testing my limits with working out while fasting for the past three years. One year I stopped most of my training except for going to the gym two or three days a week and doing body conditioning classes. I found that as long as I didn’t push myself too hard and thus didn’t sweat much, I was perfectly fine.
Last year I continued most of the normal training I was doing at the time, which involved a bit of swimming, running up to 10 km, and going to the gym. I discontinued most of my cycling because I didn’t think it would be a good idea. I did cycle 12 km to the local lake and back for the weekly open water swim, but that was easy and I felt it didn’t really count. I never did more than one activity in a day last year. Gym sessions were in the mornings. Swimming and running were as close to eating time as possible in the evenings. It all worked out well. The only downside in terms of training was that in the month after Ramadan I lost quite a lot of weight. I was still within a healthy weight range, and the weight loss made me feel lighter on my bike and on my legs. But the ladies at the gym told me I was looking too thin.
This year I’m training for a couple of big events. I need to keep up my training so I don’t lose too much fitness, but I also have to be very careful not to do damage by overdoing it while not taking in enough fluids, calories, proteins, and nutrients. The main difference between my normal training schedule and my Ramadan training schedule is that I’m not doing my long bike rides. That would have been impossible. But I’m still keeping to my current normal schedule of two activities a day. I’ll be decreasing the number of reps I do at the gym but not the weights. My swimming will be kept at the same level of intensity and length. And my running will continue as if I wasn’t fasting. I hadn’t been running for weeks due to an injury, so fortunately for Ramadan, that means my runs this year are significantly shorter than they were last Ramadan.
So far it’s been going well but I’ll have to monitor myself closely.
One of the major advantages to what I’ve been doing is that I’ve discovered that I feel like I perform so much better in my swims on an empty stomach. I feel so much lighter and I haven’t been getting fatigued as easily. I’ve already decided that after Ramadan I’m going to try to organize my meals in a way so that they are even further away from my swim sessions than they had been.
I’ve also noticed that before an activity I might feel drained and thirsty from fasting, but once I start the activity I’m fine.
Today I did a circuit class at the gym because my personal trainer is away on holiday. Being around other women made me want to push myself harder than I was planning to. I can be very competitive sometimes. By the end of the hour, I was soaked in sweat. That is exactly what I didn’t want to do to myself. I’ve been thirsty most of the day, but I went out on my bike ride later in the afternoon and it was fine. I made sure to take it easy and I avoided any big hills. I was only out for a short period of time (less than half of what my long rides had reached before the beginning of Ramadan). Of course everything is relative. Last year I wouldn’t have imagined cycling for that amount of time while fasting.
In my mind, Ramadan is not meant to be a month of laziness. The whole point is that we go about our normal lives, being as productive as we can, while avoiding food and drink. One of the main aims is to appreciate what a blessing it is to be able to have food and drink and to feel for those less fortunate. Another aim, I believe, is to toughen oneself up a bit by letting go of some of our creature comforts for a period of time. If done well, it’s a good way to cleanse body and soul.
Whenever I feel a bit tired or drained, I remember watching builders back in Egypt in the 70s. Back then, most construction work didn’t involve lots of fancy equipment. Men would go up flights and flights of stairs, carrying bricks on their heads on the way up, and refuse on the way down. They would do this in the heat while fasting. I can hardly imagine how difficult that must have been, especially as it was for most of the day. Whenever I doubt my ability to get through a one-hour workout session, I remember those guys and tell myself to stop being a wimp. At least I have the cooler summer temperatures of Britain on my side.