Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ramadan & Exercising

Ramadan starts in a day or two!
Alhamdulillah today you can find everything you need to know about Ramadan on the internet- from dietary habits, personal development plans, charity programs to lectures, iftars, recipes, and much more!

In Ramadan, some lose weight, many others gain weight. Most people's eating habits go out of control. For those people for whom Ramadan has become a cultural practice- hosting iftars and other social engagements keep them from focussing on themselves during this blessed month.

One of the activities people leave out in Ramadan is exercising (that is, if they were exercising earlier). I did a bit of research after connecting with a few professors globally, and came up with a simple diet and exercise plan for Ramadan.

First, a few facts:

  • Studies done on physically active and sedentary Kuwaiti men indicates that during Ramadan fasting, cardiovascular adaptation to conditioning is adequate in the more physically active group. Body fluid balance was better maintained in active than in sedentary subjects.
  • At the end of Ramadan, significant increases in osmolarity, sodium,and bicarbonate, and a decrease in serum iron were noted in sedentary but not in active subjects.
  • The same study concluded that energy balance is well maintained during fasting both in sedentary and in active subjects. Metabolic adaptations during fasting result in lower exercise ratio due to increased lipid usage. Deficits or redistribution of specific micronutrients (iron, vitamins) may account for reductions in serum iron and platelet counts, particularly in sedentary subjects that need to limit intake to maintain body weight. 1
Is there any reason to bother exercising, despite the benefits, when there's so much going on in Ramadan, and not enough time?
Our bodies are not designed to react or change over night, they take time. After years of bad posture a person may end up with a chronic bachache. Similarly, years of bad eating can cause low energy levels, slouchiness and dissatisfaction in life.
Ramadan is the best time to fix all these metabolical problems with your body, if you really want to. And it can be quite simple.

Here's a simple sample diet plan 2:

Iftar (as early as possible)

  1. Before praying: 2 Dates (dried dates) with a half cup milk.
  2. After praying: a serving of cooked vegetables (ideal is steamed cooked vegetables) and green salad with lemon juice. A vegetable soup serving can replace the cooked vegetables option.
    Poultry (half a chicken) or meat (two pieces) or fish or tuna are also recommended.
  3. Drinking a cup of fresh juice.

Between iftar and suhoor

  1. Fresh fruits such as oranges, gauva, dates, apples, pears etc...
    A small piece of oriental dessert with moderate amount of honey syrup and low in fat.

Suhoor: (Best 15-30 minutes before fajr prayer)

  1. Four tablespoons of fava beans with lemon juice and/or olive oil.
    One boiled egg (try to avoid egg yolk if you are over 40 years old)
  2. A cup of milk or yoghurt
    A bread loaf plus a slice of cheese.


If you are not used to exercising, then working out just before taraweeh for 15 minutes will give you the energy you need for the prayers. Also focus a lot on walking and stretching. Drink lots of water.

Here's what I suggest:

  • 5-9 min cardio
  • 4-6 min muscular conditioning
  • 2-3 min stretching/cool down

If you wish to save time, do some jumping jacks and other cardio exercises before leaving home. If you walk to the masjid, that's great. Otherwise, park your car at enough distance from the mosque so that you can get 5-10 minutes of walking. Then, enter the masjid, pray your 2 rakats for greeting the mosque and do some light stretches as you wait for the salah to begin while doing continual dhikr in your mind.

If you exercise cardio regularly, then you can try a workout 45 min-1.5 hours before eating. If you're into weight training, exercising while fasting might make you dizzy, so it's best to switch to exercising just before taraweeh.

How's that?


  • Do not sleep except after one and a half hours following suhoor.
  • Do not forget to brush or Miswak (tender neem tree branch, Azhardicta indica or other appropriate plant in a country, about 1/4-1/2 inch diameter and 6-8 inches length, tip partially chewed and made brush like). Brush your teeth before sleep and after sahur. Brush more than two times or as many times as practical.
  • You shouldn't exercise after eating unless it is approximately 2 hours later.3
  • Do not eat too fast.

And here are the regular set of suggestions for what to avoid4

  1. Intake of high sugar (table sugar, sucrose) foods through sweets or other forms.
  2. Spicy foods( I know it's hard)
  3. Caffeine drinks such as coke, coffee or tea. Caffeine is a diuretic. Three days to five days before Ramadan gradually reduce the intake of these drinks. A sudden decrease in caffeine prompts headaches, mood swings and irritability.
  4. No smoking
Drop me a note if you need more ideas on diet and exercising for your schedules. Please note this advise is NOT for pregnant women.


  1. Jasem Ramadan PhD, Girma Telahoun, MIST, Naji S. Al-Zaid PhD and M. Barac-Nieto MD, PhD a Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Kuwait University, Safat, Kuwait
  2. Dr. Tarek Rushdi, lecturer in Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine
  3. Dorothea Pitt, CanFitPro PRO
  4. Mohammad Zafar A. Nomani, PhD, RD, Professor of Nutrition,West Virginia University

Further reading:


Faraz Ahmed said...

I'm all for healthy eating, even during Ramadan, but somehow the thought of steamed vegetables after fasting for 14 hours (welcome to Edmonton!) is not the most enticing of prospects :-(

Though I'm sure they are much much more nutritious than the regular iftar meals.

Humairah Irfan said...

My fast is 14 hours too.. and this is the desert! :)

Steamed veges can be seasoned with herbs and light spices- black pepper (kali mirch), cumin (zeera), coriander (dhania), etc. Or, take it a step higher and stir fry them.
Plus, I know, this "menu" is too ideal. Because I'm not the one cooking @ home, I don't have much say...

However, many docs recommend eating a diet with 30% fat (which is a normal diet) but balancing it with exercise will make your body feel good.

[I wanted to focus this article on exercising, not eating, since I'm not a nutritionist, but there's lots of info out there. If you want, I can send it to you]

Faraz Ahmed said...

Yeah, send it over. It'd be nice to know what the requirements of a healty diet are.

Din said...

Bajee. Send it to me too!

Your in blooging form these days! ANother great post mashahallah ( alright dont take to your head!)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information and links to other articles. For the past six months, I have training to walk a marathon which falls on Oct 7. I did not realize that Ramadhan will be in full swing at the time of the marathon. I have been fasting right now but don't know how to incorporate my training while fasting. Your article has definitely provided some insights. May God bless you!

Humairah Irfan said...

Faraz & Hammad:
I'll send it to you inshallah :)

Mashallah that's great, I hope your marathon goes well!
You can also get advice from this blogger, who's a crazy fitness professional. He's been doing 7km walks/runs since day one of Ramadan:

wspnyc said...

hey I was wondering if you could send me some resources for healthy eating and exercising for Ramadan. I am working with a bunch of Bangladeshi moms who have been working really hard to change eating and exercise habits in order to lose weight and they do not want all of their changes to be lost over Ramadan.

Let me know when you can!