‘Don’t push limits before iftar’

Doctors and personal trainers say high-intensity exercise such as running right before iftar carried the risk of exhaustion, fatigue or hypoglycaemia.

High-intensity exercise such as running right before iftar can result in exhaustion, fatigue or hypoglycaemia. Pawan Singh / The National
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ABU DHABI // Muslims who exercise vigorously before breaking their fast in the belief it will accelerate weight loss are risking their health, experts say.

Doctors and personal trainers said high-intensity exercise such as running right before iftar carried the risk of exhaustion, fatigue or hypoglycaemia.

They urged those who do want to train to consider the effect on their bodies of having had no food or water for 15 hours.

“We see many people doing some aerobic or vigorous exercise, such as running, just before the maghrib prayer. However, after fasting for 15 hours the energy stores are used up,” said Areen Abu Hejleh, a nutritionist with Daman, the national health insurance company.

“Carbohydrates stored as glycogen in the muscles or liver have been expended, and the body is dehydrated.

“So working out at this time of the day might cause the body to burn the muscle tissue instead of fat, which is not beneficial for the body.”

Those who are diabetic are advised not to exercise at all before the maghreb prayer, because of the risk of hypoglycaemia, she said.

Warning signals of low blood sugar include excessive sweating and hunger, palpitations and anxiety. In a worst-case secenario, people could have a seizure or go into a coma.

Non-diabetics could also feel dizzy because exercise is known to lower blood sugar levels.

“Losing weight has more to do with monitoring the amount of calories you are eating and increasing the amount of calories you are burning,” Ms Hejleh said. “You will not lose weight quicker by exercising while fasting.”

Dr Sreehari Pillai, a specialist in internal medicine at Abu Dhabi’s NMC Specialty Hospital, also cautioned against exercising towards the end of a long day of fasting.

“This is not advisable because the body is low in carbohydrates, which is the energy source used by exercising muscles,” he said. “The chance of suffering from dehydration is also high, and so exercising after a prolonged fast can cause exhaustion, severe muscle cramps, and can lead to a person collapsing.” The notion that you can lose more weight by exercising before breaking your fast is a myth, Dr Pillai said.

“Many of us notice some weight loss after fasting, but this is due mainly to water and muscle loss,” he said. “Weight loss by burning fat is a slow process and happens only through consistent exercise and eating a well-balanced diet.”

The best time for people who are fasting to exercise is in the evening, after they have replenished their fluids and restored their energy levels, he said.

Kate Manning, the operations manager of Home Fitness For Ladies LLC, said while it was important to continue your exercise regime during Ramadan, special care should be taken by those who are fasting.

“It is safe to exercise directly before iftar, but only light-intensity training is recommended,” the personal trainer said. “High-intensity exercise such as running should be avoided before iftar, as the body does not have any fuel or hydration due to the day’s fast.

“This can be extremely dangerous for the body, to put it under a lot of stress and pressure without having any fuel in the system.”

Dr Issam Badaoui, the medical director at International SOS, said people fasting should concentrate on lighter exercises, such as brisk walking.

“Some fasting Muslims find it more convenient to exercise during the last hour before iftar, but this can be harmful to their health,” he said. “For this group of people, there is a real issue as exercise causes their bodies to lose more water, risking dehydration and accumulating more toxins as a result.”

Dr Harminder Singh, a specialist in internal medicine at Abu Dhabi’s LLH Hospital, sees people suffering with heat cramps caused by physical activity in hot weather. This leads to painful muscle spasms that result from a loss of large amounts of salt and water. Exercise while fasting is not ideal, he said.

“This is because hydration is so important when you exercise.”