During the fasting month, many people may feel weak and need to take long naps during the day. Whereas others may feel pain in their feet from standing for long periods of time or find it hard to focus throughout the day.
However, that should not be the case. It is important to feel energized and feel good throughout the fasting season. Especially as each week passes, you should get stronger both physically and mentally, and this will not be able to happen without putting effort into the right workout, performance gear, and eating right during Sahur and Iftar.
The team at Lipstiq managed to catch up with Under Armour Ambassador and Fitness Trainer Nana Al-Haleq, who is fired up with Under Armour’s “The Only Way Is Through” motto to share her thoughts on how to work out, eat right and build muscle mass in the process during this season of fasting.
Q: When it comes to working out, it can be challenging during the Ramadan season. Share with us your personal workout tips during Ramadan to maintain muscle mass
Nana Al-Haleq (Nana): As much as we want to maintain our muscles during this holy month, there will be a slight decrease in muscle mass as we perform the fast. However, it will not be significant if we plan out our training and nutrition properly. The idea is to keep active and train as consistently as possible and maintain a good quality diet prioritising adequate protein, lots of fibre, good fats, and enough carbs.
Some general guidelines to help you maintain muscle mass is to perform your strength training (especially if you plan to go heavy) before sahur, one hour before Iftar, or after breaking fast so that you can fuel with a complete meal after your workout. Reserve your cardio or endurance-based workout post Iftar, limiting it to 2x per week, and keep it max 20-30 minutes tops.
Again this is just a general guideline and each individual responds differently so always do what’s best for your body and be consistent!
Q: When it comes to working out, what would you say is the best time to work out during Ramadan?
Nana: As a general guideline, I would suggest doing your strength workout an hour before Iftar or before Sahur so that you can fuel right after, and reserve cardio/endurance-based workout after Iftar.
Depending on your preferred time to workout, do opt for light or active recovery exercises if you choose to exercise during the day and cardio/endurance-based workout, best after Iftar. Remember, working out should be a channel to de-stress and make you feel good about yourself.
Q: What kind of performance gear would you recommend to our readers who wish to workout during the Ramadan period and why?
Nana: My favourite gear for strength training would be Under Armour gear such as UA Rush, UA HeatGear, or Project Rock! As for Yoga, Pilates, Fusion Workout and Everyday Active comfort… definitely UA Meridian! I can just wear fits from this range every day because they are simply too comfortable! For shoes, I would recommend UA ProjectRock 4, UA HOVR Apex or Tribase for strength training.
Q: Having the right nutrition plays a part in maintaining muscle mass. What kind of nutritious meals would you recommend having during Iftar and Sahur?
Nana: What to eat for Iftar or Sahur: Sufficient protein & carbs! Don’t be afraid of carbs as our body needs them to re-energise throughout the day and after breaking fast! However, be smart in the ways you cook them. Using good ingredients in sauces, marinations, seasoning or gravy matters as ingredients that might cause inflammation or sugar spike will affect your energy instantly or even influence you the next day. Prioritise vegetables and fibre to keep our gut healthy (improve digestive health), assist in natural detoxification, help reduce the risk of chronic health conditions and help our body to receive the vitamins and minerals it needs.
Drink plenty of water during the eating window but rehydrate slowly and sensibly until you begin your fast again so your body can absorb it properly. Aim to get a total of 2.5 litres daily.
Also, add spices to your meal! For instance, turmeric is packed with antioxidants and is great to help decrease inflammation in our body, so have some golden latte or simply add it to your Iftar or Sahur meals. Ginger is great for digestion, immunity relief, stomach upsets and helps with wind so have it as a tea or simply add it to your cooking as well!
Don’t forget about your immune-boosting vitamins such as vitamin C and D, Fish Oil or Algae Oil to help reduce inflammation and help with brain function; vitamin B which aids cell health, energy levels, healthy brain function and helps nerve function; and magnesium to support better sleep, rest and overall biochemical reactions in your body. Not to say that you can’t indulge, you can. I do too. Just be smart about how you nourish your body.
Q: Thoughts about the importance of fasting on one’s body.
Nana: For me, fasting is more than performing a ‘Sunnah’ or ‘Amanah’ but it is a great time to give our body and overall well-being a little rest. It gives many benefits in terms of physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Physical health benefits include – boosting cognitive performance, help in preventing neurodegenerative disorders, promoting blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, enhancing heart health, protecting you from obesity and associated chronic illnesses, reducing inflammation, and potentially delaying aging and promoting long life.
Mental health benefits include – encouraging us to only think about positive thoughts, to do something good for others and ourselves, and also improving our relationship with food (not to overindulge, be grateful for our ‘Rezeki’ and share with others).
Q: Nana, you and your husband recently healed from Covid-19. Did this affect your recent performance, especially during Ramadan? If so, how did you overcome it?
Nana: My Covid symptoms were pretty bad. Though I was lucky not to experience a bad sore throat, cough or flu, I had to endure chronic eye pain, migraines, body ache, stomach issues (vomiting, wind, gastric-like symptoms, and the on and off purging and constipation), and extreme lethargy. These symptoms persisted till day 9 after I tested positive for Covid. On day 10, I attended horse riding class and realised how my stamina had dropped tremendously. My heart rate shot up to 160 just from sitting and trotting and I had to take a 5-10 minutes break every 10 mins (the class is 45 min). I was panting throughout the session too.
Day 11 and day 12 – I decided to start my strength training. Although I mainly perform bodyweight exercises, my heart rate still shot up to 150 to 160 even though I gave myself more than 2 mins or more of rest in-between. I was panting, felt a bit dizzy, and at some point, I think I saw stars too. Body and muscle soreness were intense and I required much more rest at night and during the day (I was taking naps throughout the 1-week post- Covid period) and had to be extra careful with the food that I ate because anything unhealthy triggered stomach upset and pain.
2 weeks post-Covid, I felt much better – less lethargic; stamina, endurance, and strength slowly increased. However, I have to keep in mind about food intake and choices of food (lots of antioxidants, fibre, and vitamins, and take more rest as my body slowly makes a full recovery.
I always believe in prioritising food that has holistic benefits to heal and elevate my overall well-being; not only to keep healthy and help my body function optimally but also to help me recover post-training and be able to push harder during training. Good nutrition is the key to better performance and overall well-being. So be kind to your body, adjust your nutrition and training to fit your current state and requirement. Give time, and have patience because similar to Under Armour’s brand message ‘The Only Way Is Through’, you could overcome any shortcomings and come out stronger and better with good discipline and willpower.
Q: Any final thoughts to add for those who are still wary about working out during Ramadan and additional benefits that we should know about.
Nana: We are all encouraged to stay active for overall well-being and fitness, be it during Ramadan or not. So although we are fasting, we still need to get our body moving to ensure our bones, joints, mental and physical health stay healthy. Working out during Ramadan doesn’t mean we have to engage in strenuous or vigorous exercises but choose something that fits how our body feels on that particular day.
Here are some of the benefits on why we should stay active during Ramadan:
- Maintaining muscular strength and endurance
- Preventing physical decline due to prolonged rest and inactivity
- Improving mobility and reducing the risk of falls
- Reduce fatigue and lethargy
- Maintaining cognitive function helps us function better and think better.
- Helps to manage stress and improve mood
- Maintaining cardio-respiratory fitness and immunity against infections
The key here is to choose an activity that fits our capabilities and Ramadan certainly is not the time for you to strive for a new performance record or dive into new fitness challenges that will put stress on the body. Be kind to your body and always listen to what it is telling you. If you need to drop the weight, drop it. And if your body demands rest, it’s okay to chill and do something light like brisk walking. Remember – always do what’s best for your body and be consistent!