How to exercise the right way during Ramadan

If you’re fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, getting your body the fuel it needs ahead of a workout can be difficult. Thankfully, with a few adjustments, Muslims around the world are able to continue exercising and working out without the need for food or drink during daylight hours.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the holy month in the Hijri (Islamic) calendar which marks a period of self-reflection for Muslims around the world. This month commemorates the date Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

Aside from abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours, Muslims are additionally encouraged to look introspectively at their behaviours and to work on personal practices of gratitude, charity, worship and self-discipline.

If you’re observing Ramadan you may also feel like spending more time alone, more time in prayer with fellow Muslims, or more time with your family.

What are the rules for fasting during Ramadan?

During Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from the following during daylight hours:

  • Food
  • Drink
  • Sexual activity
  • Smoking

In addition to not eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset, Muslims must also refrain from all impure thoughts and activities, including: swearing, gossiping, arguing and fighting.

Are there exemptions?

There are a few groups of people who are considered exempt from fasting during Ramadan. These include individuals who are pregnant or who are too sick to observe a fast.

  • The first group includes children who have not yet reached puberty. It's not uncommon for some youngsters to opt for a half-day fast to partake in familial activities
  • The second group includes individuals who are unwell. It's advisable for those with conditions sensitive to prolonged fasting, such as diabetes or similar chronic ailments, to abstain from fasting
  • The third group includes pregnant and breastfeeding women. Additionally, menstruating individuals are exempt from fasting
  • The final group pertains to those embarking on long-distance journeys. If the journey is deemed lengthy, fasting is not considered obligatory.

Can I drink water whilst exercising during Ramadan?

During Ramadan you cannot drink water or anything else from sunrise to sunset.

Should I stop exercising during Ramadan?

It’s no secret that Ramadan can pose a challenge to your exercise routine.

Fuelling your body for exercise is essential, and when food and drink are taken away, you may start to feel lethargic and tired. Thankfully, with a few small adjustments you should be able to continue working out without an issue. 

With this in mind, we recommend prioritising low to moderate intensity exercise over high intensity workouts. It’s more important than ever to listen to your body, as it will dictate whether you should continue a workout or not.

Timing and why it matters

Everyone’s body reacts differently to fasting, so find what works for you and stick with it. This advice applies to the intensity and the timing of your workouts.

With this in mind, if you’re new to exercising during Ramadan you may want to try one of the following:

Exercising after Suhoor (after sunrise meal)

Things to consider:

  • You will be fuelled and hydrated
  • You will not be able to rehydrate and refuel until Iftar
  • You may feel lethargic not eating or drinking after exercise

Exercising before Iftar (before sunset meal)

Things to consider:

  • You will be closer to the time where you can break fast
  • You will be able to eat and rehydrate after your workout
  • You will not have eaten or drank anything for a long period
  • You may feel tired and lacking energy

Exercising after Iftar (after sunset meal)

Things to consider:

  • You will feel fuelled and hydrated
  • You can still eat and drink more after your workout if you need to
  • You may have to wait an hour or two for your food to settle
  • You may have to eat less in the evening to accommodate working out

Are there benefits to fasted exercise?

Fasting for Ramadan is a form of intermittent fasting where you have an eating window and a non-eating widow. Evidence on the subject is conflicted as to whether there are substantial benefits to this type of fasting for men and women. 

There is some research that suggests that during periods of fasting, glycogen stores empty. This means the body starts to burn fat. There is also research that suggests that fasting could have potential health benefits when it comes to reducing your diabetes risk, lowering blood pressure, and maintaining muscle mass.

Should I prioritise weights or cardio?

The exact type of exercise that you choose to do during Ramadan will all depend on your goals and how you feel when you’re fasting. Whatever you choose, start at a lower intensity than you usually would, especially if you are new to exercising whilst fasting. 

Even if you have been observing Ramadan and training for a very long time, maintaining your current weights programme and reducing the intensity of your cardio sessions is advised.

Finding suitable alternatives to what you normally do can also help. For example, try thirty minutes on the cross trainer as oppose to running a 5K, as the latter may prove too much during fasted hours.

Lower-intensity versions of classes like yoga and Pilates or walking are also great as they don’t put a huge strain on your muscles and they won’t cause you to sweat as much as high-intensity exercise.

Know your limitations

It’s important to take stock before Ramadan and accept that you may not be able to reach the same levels you normally would. 

Remember that Ramadan is about self-reflection, gratitude, spiritual growth and disciplining your body and mind to become more conscious of our actions and intentions. 

If you’re struggling to accept your limitations, remember that Ramadan is one month of the year. There are other areas of your overall health and wellbeing aside from rigorous physical exercise that you can focus on and use to bring you joy during this holy month.

Women and exercise during Ramadan

Women can be more sensitive to intermittent fasting due to the monthly menstrual cycle and the hormonal fluctuations that accompany it.

Women also have a greater sensitivity to energy balance fluctuations which fasting can affect as an exaggerated response to stress.

Will I lose weight during Ramadan?

To lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit. This can be achieved by reducing your calorie intake below your total daily energy expenditure (TDE). This means you’re eating less calories than your body is burning throughout the day.

Ramadan is no different. If you are consuming less calories than your TDE and are moving more, you will lose weight. However, if you are overeating at Suhoor (meal before sunrise) and/or Iftar (meal after sunset) and are moving less, you will most likely put weight on. 

It’s important to remember that losing weight should not be something you aim for during Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month where fasting is observed for spiritual reasons, not for the purpose of trying to lose weight.

Can I still build muscle whilst fasting?

To build muscle, you need to progressively overload your muscles with things like resistance training and consume enough protein and calories to support muscle growth.

This becomes incredibly challenging during Ramadan because your body may lack the fuel to energise your workouts and the necessary protein intake to stimulate muscle growth.

It’s generally best to focus on maintaining your current physique and training regime rather than trying to make additional gains during Ramadan.

Should I wait to start a new routine?

There is no need to wait until Eid to start a new routine, however it is advisable to maintain your current routine or even reduce the intensity of your existing routine rather than pushing yourself or introducing a new stimulus with a new routine.

If you’re already lifting heavy weights or running long distances, your body will have made the necessary adaptations to sustain this during Ramadan, as oppose to someone who is new to the routine who would find this stressful.

With this in mind, we recommend focusing on maintaining your current routine and not pushing yourself too hard. You may even want to think about reducing the intensity of your workouts (advisable for those fasting and exercising for the first time) to account for the long periods of fasting during Ramadan.

Last updated Friday 8 March 2024

First published on Friday 8 March 2024