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15 Things You Should Know About Working Out During Ramadan

Don't worry; it's do-able.

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BuzzFeed Health talked to registered dietitian Shireen Hakim, M.S., M.P.H., and John Berardi, Ph.D., author of Intermittent Fasting and founder of Precision Nutrition, about the ins and outs of exercising while fasting for Ramadan. Be sure to talk to your doctor before exercising during a fast.

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1. When it comes to timing your workouts, it really depends on your energy levels and schedule.

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Hakim says that you can pretty much work out whenever is best for your work, life, prayer schedule and energy levels. Berardi agrees and says there's no one way to exercise during Ramadan that's necessarily better or will yield better results than any other. "Do what works for you," he says.

That said, you probably don't want to exercise midday, when it's been hours since you've eaten and you still have a few hours before you can break the fast, says Hakim. You'd be starting the workout low on fuel and water, which can lead to dehydration, injury, and just a crappy workout.

2. Here are few of the best times to work out during Ramadan:

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* You could time your workout to end just before iftar so that your fast-breaking date and post-workout snack are one in the same.

* You could work out after you break the fast so that your main iftar meal acts as your post-workout recovery.

* You could exercise after your main evening meal, then have a snack after that if you're still hungry.

* You could exercise before suhoor so that your morning meal comes right after your exercise.

"Everyone knows their bodies so if they're comfortable and healthy, everyone should do what works best for them," Hakim says.

3. Don't plan on working out for the first 7-10 days of Ramadan.

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During the first week or 10 days of a fast, your body isn't that efficient at using stored meals for energy, says Berardi. Plus, your body is still used to your usual rhythm of eating throughout the day. So, if you typically eat lunch around 12:30, at about 11:30 a.m. your body will release hormones to make you feel hungry and prepare your stomach for food. It takes about a week or week and a half for most people's bodies to get good at using stored energy.

Until then, you'll probably feel hungry, fatigued, and maybe foggy and unable to focus. For most people, this feels like a terrible time to make your body work any harder than it has to. So plan on using the first 10 or so days to get acclimated to your new eating schedule.

4. Doing a few smaller fasts leading up to Ramadan might make the fast easier.

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Hakim says periodic fasting is something many Muslims already practice. "Muslims do prepare for Ramadan with periodic fasting throughout the year, because we have other recommended days to fast outside the month of Ramadan. This shows the significance and relevance that fasting has in Islam," she says.

This also might make it easier to exercise during Ramadan, because your body will adapt more quickly to Ramadan fasting, says Berardi. He recommends doing a "a ramp-up month" where you fast for one day per week in the month leading up to Ramadan (if you're not already observing other fasting holidays).

5. If possible, try not to become too preoccupied with "messing up" your workout routine.

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Hakim says that as your focus shifts during Ramadan towards fasting and praying more than usual, your priorities can shift, too, towards the experience of Ramadan and away from the everyday things you worry about during the rest of the year, like getting your workout in.

During Ramadan, participants "focus on the spiritual aspect — we're getting extra blessings," she says. Berardi agrees and says that for most people who exercise for general health and weight management, taking a month off their usual routine won't matter much for their results. Even people who are hardcore about gains don't have to freak out about lighter workouts: "If your goals are more aggressive — it's only one month. Go back to hardcore muscle-building next month. This one month won't break you," he says.

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6. Make your approach to exercise during Ramadan about maintenance rather than progress.

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You can do this by adjusting your workout routine so that it's just not as demanding as it is the rest of the year. "Basically what I recommend during Ramadan is to keep your workout light — lighter than usual," says Hakim.

Berardi says cardio done at a low or moderate intensity is a good choice because it's not as metabolically demanding as higher intensity exercise. Weightlifting should also be fine, particularly if the rest periods aren't too short.

7. Some people might be able to handle (modified) high-intensity intervals training.

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Especially if you already do high-intensity training (like sprints or CrossFit metcons), and your body is used to it. (In other words, do not take up high-intensity exercise during Ramadan!) But if it's a thing you usually do, Berardi says it's probably OK to give it a try with a few rules.

* Keep the volume low. If you usually do 15 rounds of sprints, try 10, or even fewer. Or adapt a high-intensity circuit or CrossFit metcon to be 10 minutes long instead of 20, or half the number of rounds.

* Bring the intensity down, too. Go about 60-80% (choose what feels best for you) of your normal intensity. So, if you run sprints as what you consider close to your maximum effort — like 90% — try doing them at about 55-70% of your max effort.

8. You can also think of it as an opportunity to practice form or skills.

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If the thought of not making gains for a month is too much to bear, consider making progress in another area — technique or a skill. If you take a break from lifting super heavy, you can use the gym time to, say, perfect your squat form or your deadlift. If you've been trying to nail a good lunge or plank or work on a yoga pose, spend some time working on it. Basically just think of things you can do that have to do with quality of movement rather than intensity or quantity.

9. But take a break from any movement that's highly technical or that requires a lot of focus.

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Since fasting and getting used to a new eating schedule can make it tough to concentrate and focus, Berardi recommends avoiding any movements that require a lot of precise and complex technique.

So skip Olympic lifts and any other heavy lifting that requires your complete focus on minute detail in order for you to avoid hurting yourself. The same goes for any other movement you feel requires all your brainpower to do correctly — just plan on leaving it out of your routine during Ramadan.

10. If you feel light-headed or foggy, take a moment to assess whether you should be exercising at all.

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Berardi says that feeling light-headed and kind of out of it during a fasting working might be a sign that you should go easier or slower. But you should always pay attention to your body and just stop altogether if you think that's what it's telling you to do.

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11. Do not — repeat: do not — skip suhoor.

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It might be tempting to sleep through it since it can come as early as 3:30 a.m., but Hakim strongly recommends you eat a hearty suhoor, regardless of when you plan to exercise.

It's your only chance to get the food that can provide fuel for the day. If you skip it, she says, your workout will probably feel terrible and you'll also be more likely to overeat at iftar because you'll be so darn hungry.

12. And try to have a suhoor that's filled with complex carbs along with protein and healthy fat.

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Hakim recommends a meal that's plentiful in whole grain carbs, like oatmeal, cereal, whole wheat waffles, or quinoa. The less processed the carb, the longer it'll take the for the body to break down, which means that instead of getting a quick energy spike and dip, you'll get a gradual, more even release of energy. And the more fiber the better, as it helps fill you up, she says. Foods with protein and fat are also part of a hearty suhoor, like eggs, avocado, peanut butter, cheese, and milk.

Hakim recommends this sample suhoor meal (adjust the amounts for your appetite!):

• 2-3 cups of water

• 1-2 cup of milk/yogurt, perhaps with cereal (bran, oatmeal)

• 1-2 boiled eggs

• 1-2 slices of wheat toast

• 1-2 cups of fruit

• 1-2 cups salad

Get five awesome original suhoor recipes from BuzzFeed Food here.

13. Also, try to have a balanced meal with plenty of protein at iftar.

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When it comes to your evening meal, Hakim again recommends eating a balanced meal of nutritious foods that are filled with stuff your body needs — complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein. And emphasis on the protein — it helps repair and build muscle, so make sure you're getting enough of it if you're exercising. Hakim recommends considering a protein powder to help you get even more protein in you.

Both Hakim and Berardi recommend treating highly processed, deep-fried, and sugary foods during Ramadan more or less the same way you should treat them the rest of the year — try to make your priority the healthy stuff your body needs and then have desserts and high-fat stuff as treats. "Indulge in sweets, desserts, or higher calorie/fat foods in moderation, once you've eaten the things you already know are good for you," says Berardi.

14. Use iftar as an opportunity to rehydrate.

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Iftar is a great time to rehydrate, particularly if you plan on exercising after breaking the fast or if you've just exercised. Hakim recommends keeping a water bottle on you between iftar and bedtime.

You might also want to prioritize electrolytes, especially if you're exercising during Ramadan. These help the body maintain its fluid balance, which is particularly important since you're more likely to get dehydrated here and there throughout Ramdan. You can get electrolyte drops or tablets, or sip on coconut water which naturally contains electrolytes.

15. Keep in mind that you probably won't lose weight during Ramadan, even if you're exercising.

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When you eat a few meals and snacks per day, your body gets the energy to think and move and function from that food. "When we start fasting, we're asking the body to eat the food that's already on us," says Berardi. If you have even an average amount of fat on your body, you have many meals and calories stored up, and this (in addition to suhoor and iftar) is what will power you through the hours between sunrise and sunset.

It might sound like running more off of stored fat than food means that you'll be more apt to lose fat while fasting. But, as Berardi explains, weight loss happens when you expend more calories than you take in. Not only will you replace a lot of calories at suhoor and iftar, your overall physical activity will probably decrease or, if you exercise, not make too much of a difference because you won't be going as hard. In the end, it will probably end up being a wash calorie-wise. Hakim says to try not to see fasting as a diet plan — "We focus on the spiritual aspects [of Ramadan]", she says.

This piece is part of a series of posts and essays celebrating Ramadan. Click here to read more!

Social images via Anjali Prasertong / Via thekitchn.com and Lindsay Hunt via BuzzFeed.

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