During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, or Ramadan, Muslims fast between dawn and sunset.
This poses a unique challenge to Muslims who lift weights because it makes it difficult to eat and train in a way that’s conducive to muscle growth (or muscle retention, if you’re cutting).
That doesn’t mean Muslims have to spend a month losing their hard-earned muscle and strength, though.
With a few simple training and diet tips, you can maintain your gains and perhaps progress.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to train and diet during Ramadan, the best workouts to do during Ramadan to maintain or gain muscle and strength, and more.
Table of Contents
Can You Exercise During Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which practicing Muslims abstain from eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset.
While fasting during Ramadan is intended to test those who observe it, it’s particularly trying for Muslims who train. That’s because training fasted when you’re unaccustomed can sap your strength, stamina, and motivation to exercise.
Forgoing food during daylight hours also leaves little time each day to eat (especially once you factor in sleeping), which makes it difficult to consume enough daily calories and protein to maintain muscle, let alone build more.
Because of these challenges, some Muslims fear that they’re destined to lose muscle and strength during Ramadan.
This doesn’t have to be so—studies show that your workouts and body composition won’t suffer during Ramadan, provided you follow a few simple training and diet tips.
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How to Exercise During Ramadan
The best way to mitigate the challenges associated with training during Ramadan is to schedule your workouts before you begin fasting in the morning or after breaking your fast at night. That way, you can train fed, which should make the experience more comfortable.
However, this isn’t possible or preferable for everyone—your gym may not have long opening hours, or you may not enjoy training early in the morning or late at night, for example.
If this is the case for you, here’s some sage advice: Ramadan isn’t the time to brutalize yourself with tons of volume, chase strength PRs, or bulk up. A more fitting goal is maintaining your size and strength (or making small gains) without running yourself ragged.
For that, here’s what I recommend:
1. Lift weights 1-to-3 times per week.
The best way to ensure you don’t wear yourself to a frazzle during Ramadan is to dial back your training volume and frequency. For example, instead of doing 3-to-5 weekly workouts containing 10-to-20 sets per major muscle group, do 1-to-3 workouts per week with fewer sets.
Contrary to many people’s worries, this won’t make your muscles wither: maintaining muscle and strength requires far less training than most think.
For instance, several meta-analyses show that doing a single heavy weekly set per major muscle group is enough to maintain your strength.
You don’t have to do much more to maintain muscle, either.
In a study conducted by scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, weightlifters maintained most of their leg muscle for 8 months doing just 1 weekly weightlifting workout consisting of 1 set each of the squat, leg press, and leg extension.
Moreover, research shows that you can actually gain muscle if you’re willing to do slightly more than this (albeit less efficiently than if you geared your training and diet toward growth).
And that’s why it’s a good idea to aim for 2-to-3 weekly sets per major muscle group per week as an absolute minimum for maintenance and 5-to-10 sets per major muscle group per week if you want to make small gains.
Another way to think of it: during Ramadon, reduce your volume by 60-to-80% from what you were doing before.
2. Focus on compound exercises.
There are two types of weightlifting exercises: compound exercises and isolation exercises.
A compound exercise involves multiple joints and muscles (e.g., the deadlift), whereas an isolation exercise involves just one joint and muscle (e.g., the biceps curl).
Compound exercises should make up the lion’s share of your training during Ramadan for three reasons:
- They allow you to train dozens of muscles simultaneously and lift more weight safely, which is important for maintaining or gaining muscle and strength.
- They allow you to train more efficiently (one compound exercise can do the work of several isolation exercises), which is beneficial when energy and motivation are at a premium.
- They raise testosterone and growth hormone levels more than isolation exercises, which probably won’t dramatically affect muscle and strength retention or growth, but also won’t hurt.
3. Train hard.
While it might be tempting to temper your training intensity during Ramadan, studies show that training hard is necessary to preserve muscle and performance.
As such, do the following:
- Train in the 4-to-8 rep range, which means lifting weights ~80-to-90% of your one-rep max.
- End every set 1-to-2 reps shy of muscle failure (the point at which you can’t complete a rep despite giving maximum effort).
- Strive to add weight or reps to every exercise in every workout.
4. Rest at least 2-to-3 minutes between sets.
Ordinarily, you may like to keep your rest between sets short (less than 2 minutes, for example).
During Ramadan, it’s sensible to elongate your rest periods a little—2-to-3 minutes is a good rule of thumb. This will give you enough time to fully recoup your strength so you’re ready to give maximum effort each set.
That said, if you’re feeling gassed between heavy sets of exercises like the squat or deadlift, it’s probably best to rest a little longer—anywhere up 5 minutes should do the trick.
5. Cut out cardio.
Cardio can significantly increase the number of calories you burn each day.
As such, doing cardio when you’re already restricting your food intake for Ramadan can easily make you slip into a “calorie deficit,” where you burn more calories than you consume.
This is undesirable from a muscle and strength maintenance and growth standpoint because eating fewer calories than you burn for an extended period hinders muscle retention, blocks muscle growth, and diminishes your resolve to train hard, especially if the difference between your intake and output is large.
Thus, the best way to avoid these pitfalls is to limit cardio during Ramadan.
That said, if you don’t want to abstain from cardio (perhaps you enjoy it or like its health benefits), the next best option is to limit the type and duration of cardio you do.
For example, it’s best to refrain from HIIT during Ramadan since high-intensity cardio can be tough to recover from and may interfere with your weightlifting workouts, which could hinder your ability to maintain or gain muscle and strength.
However, doing 1-to-2 relatively short low-intensity cardio workouts per week, such as a couple of 30-minute walks won’t hamper your progress and should be enough to scratch your cardio itch during Ramadan.
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How to Diet During Ramadan
1. Eat enough calories and protein.
To preserve muscle during Ramadan, aim to eat about as many calories as you burn each day (known as eating “maintenance” calories). To determine how many calories that is, use the calculator here.
You should also look to eat 1-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. This will help you retain or build muscle more effectively, recover faster from your workouts, and may help you feel satiated for longer.
2. Supplement intelligently.
You don’t need to take any supplements to maintain muscle and strength during Ramadan, but the right ones can help.
Here are the best supplements to take during Ramadan to maximize muscle and strength retention and health:
- Protein powder: Protein powder, such as whey and casein, makes it easier to hit your daily protein target, which can be especially challenging when fasting for long periods each day. If you want a clean, convenient, and delicious source of protein, try Whey+ or Casein+.
- Multivitamin: Eating fewer daily meals increases your odds of developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, something a good multivitamin can remedy. If you want a multivitamin containing clinically effective doses of 31 vitamins and minerals designed to enhance your health and mood, and reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety, try Triumph for men and women.
- Creatine: Creatine boosts athletic performance, enhances muscle growth, helps preserve muscle after grueling workouts, and reduces soreness after exercise. If you want a 100% natural source of creatine that also includes two other ingredients to improve recovery, try Recharge.
(If you’d like even more specific advice about which supplements you should take to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)
3. Stay hydrated.
While dehydration doesn’t blight performance the way many fitness “gurus” claim, people often find it difficult to stay hydrated during Ramadan, which may make training feel more laborious.
Some research suggests that a good way to stop dehydration hindering your workouts is to drink a pint of water every hour between breaking your fast and bedtime, then another pint or two upon waking before you begin fasting again.
I’m not convinced this is optimal for a couple of reasons:
- Drinking a lot of water may make you feel full and prevent you from eating as much food during your eating window, making it even more difficult to eat enough calories and protein to maintain your size and strength.
- Drinking several pints of water before bed may disturb your sleep by making it more likely that you’ll have to get up to pee during the night. This is significant because getting plenty of good-quality sleep is paramount for gaining and retaining muscle and strength.
With these points in mind, a better heuristic is simply drinking to thirst upon breaking your fast and throughout the remainder of your feeding window.
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The Best Ramadan Workout Plan
Here are the best 1-, 2-, and 3-day weightlifting programs to use during Ramadan.
1-Day Ramadan Workout Plan
This 1-day Ramadan weightlifting program is perfect for those who want to train as little as possible without losing size or strength.
2-Day Ramadan Workout Plan
Training twice weekly will ensure you lose no muscle or strength during Ramadan and may enable you to make small gains. To allow yourself time to recover, allow at least 2 days between each workout.
For example, if you do Workout 1 on Monday, wait until Thursday to do Workout 2.
3-Day Ramadan Workout Plan
This 3-day Ramadan weightlifting program gives you the best chance of gaining muscle and strength during Ramadan.
For best results, leave at least one day between workouts (you could train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example).
And if you like the look of these programs and want similar workouts for the remainder of the year, check out my fitness books for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger.
(Or if you aren’t sure if Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger is right for you or if another strength training program might be a better fit for your circumstances and goals, take Legion Strength Training Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know the perfect strength training program for you. Click here to check it out.)
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