When to exercise during Ramadan and which type of workout is best?

It's important to be smart when working out during the holy month. Here's what you need to know

Keep cardio sessions light or avoid them altogether during fasting hours. Photo: Nike
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Between interrupted sleeping patterns and lowered liquid intake, maintaining a normal exercise routine during Ramadan can be hard.

However, finding the time to work out during the holy month will not only help keep you healthy, but also help to keep your energy levels up, your mind clear and your metabolism stable.

If you are planning on exercising while fasting this Ramadan, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

Which kind of workout is best?

As someone who observes the fast himself, Ahmed ElSayed, a personal trainer at FitnessFirst, focuses on three basic fitness aspects in each workout: strength training, cardio and flexibility. “The reason I prioritise muscular strength is because a loss of muscle mass will slow down your metabolism. The goal ought to be to avoid both: losing muscle and a drop in your metabolic rate,” he says.

“When it comes to cardio, I recommend a light-intensity session, limited to 30 minutes of slow, steady distance, every other day. Remember, you will be dehydrated, so your body will use your fat storage as a source of energy, especially if you do cardio before iftar. However, the fact that you’re depleted means your blood pressure might drop at the onset or even after, so don’t skip warm-up and cool-down routines.

“Similarly, when you start your resistance training, choose exercises that target the upper body before the lower body to avoid any drop in your blood pressure during or after. The last fitness aspect to focus on is flexibility to avoid any mobility-related issues you might face, especially when you exercise normally again after Ramadan and the Eid break.”

The best time to work out

Given the high temperatures and no liquids from sunrise to sunset, you will compromise your health by pushing yourself too much. It is not recommended to do intense cardio workouts and heavy weight-training exercises while fasting. You should also cut your routine down to two cardio sessions a week throughout the holy month.

‘Exercising in a fasted state is not an easy feat, especially when you add in daily stressors and warmer weather," says Dr Mona Mobarak, a clinical nutritionist who works closely with Abu Dhabi 360, the recently launched community-wide initiative by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. "Finding the best time for you is key to keeping your exercise routine safe and sustainable.

"I would suggest doing strength training routines pre-iftar, but if you prefer to exercise after iftar, try to keep your meal light and save your biggest meal for after your session so you don't feel uncomfortable when training."

Mobarak, whose tips are available on the Abu Dhabi 360 app, also suggests cutting down the time of your usual workouts by 15 minutes to limit stress on the body. So, if you usually work out for 60 minutes, limit yourself to 45 minutes instead.

Meanwhile, Fitness First suggests the four best times for working out during Ramadan:

90 minutes before sunset

A light workout towards the cooler part of the day will mean you can soon replenish yourself with water, and reap the benefits of exercising on an empty stomach. However, any workout done at this time should be low-key with more resistance training, low repetitions and weights, and plenty of stretching. This is also a good time for a short brisk walk or light jog.

After your evening meal

While cardio can be difficult on a full stomach, an hour one after iftar is a good time for weight training. On the days you plan to exercise after your meal, add in a little extra food to fuel your body, and ensure you drink plenty of water to rehydrate.

DUBAI - AUGUST 15,2010 - Emirati Olympic sailor Adil Khalid working out at Fitness Gym breaking fast during Ramadan. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )
Emirati Olympic sailor Adil Khalid works out at FitnessFirst during Ramadan. Paulo Vecina / The National

Between 11pm and 2am

For night owls, the best time to work out may be between 11pm and 2pm, after your food has had time to settle and your body has fully rehydrated. If you have managed to get some rest in the afternoon, exercising at this time can be favourable, as it is cooler than the daytime, and will still leave you with a couple of hours more sleep until you get up to start the day.

Between 3am and 4am

For early risers, the best time to work out may be just before your morning suhoor. This way, you will have energy from the previous night's meal, yet be on an empty stomach. You can hydrate while you exercise and once you are done, eat again to refuel. This method will also get you energised for the day ahead.

- A version of this story first appeared in The National in May 2020