Ramadan and exercising – can it be done safely?

By Coach Ole Brom

After 18 years in the region, here’s my take on it. 

Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, self-reflection, introspection, and prayer for Muslims. It’s a holy month where Muslims around the world observe fasting from when the sun rises until it sets. Many will attempt to use Ramadan as a month to lose excess fat, which can be done due to the calorie-deficit nature of fasting. Some actually both gain weight and fat, as well as lose muscle mass. It all comes down to intent, habits, and discipline – approaching Ramadan with a plan. 

Tips and guidelines

Working out and exercising while fasting may be counterproductive to gaining any strength or fitness, but to maintain good health during Ramadan is still possible. You’ll increase your chances of success with some tips and guidelines, which are outlined in this article. 

To live healthily and succeed in sports, and life itself, I always say there are 4 main components with equal importance. This holds true during Ramadan, too, of course; 

  • nutrition needs to be 100%  on 
  • fitness/activity need to be 100% on 
  • sleep/recovery need to be 100% on, and of course 
  • your mindset needs to be 100% on 

Due to the nature of Ramadan – fasting for about 14 hours (in the UAE) – may pose some challenges and difficulties. Unless, of course, you turn your day upside down, which for most is not a feasible option due to work, family and commitments. When done in a smart way, though, Ramadan is a great opportunity for people to detox and cleanse their intestinal tract and improve eating habits. The key is to avoid overindulgence. When breaking the fast, you need to start with water, then some dates and perhaps a banana, because you need to let your metabolism and digestive system activate. It’s best to spread out your food intake and eat slowly;

  • At Suhoor meals, the early morning meal before sunrise, eating a combination of whole-grain carbohydrates with good amounts of fiber (wild rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, etc.), with lean proteins would delay hunger pangs and provide longer sustenance.
  • Humans burn glycogen when they fast or exercise. This glycogen is important to replace with a small Iftar, the small meal marking the breaking of the fast after sunset, and then continue to eat small portions thereafter. Such a meal should mainly consist of water, soup, some carbohydrates like 3-4 dates, a bit of fresh and/or dried fruits, perhaps with a small amount of protein-rich foods to counteract lean muscle loss, such as fish, some raw nuts, or a protein shake.
  • Natural laxatives, such as prune juice, can be recommended to avoid digestive problems caused by dramatic shifts in eating habits.
  • It’s very difficult to train effectively and safely on an empty stomach when you do not get any fluids into your system during the whole day. Drinking a good amount of water from sunset until sunrise is paramount, of course, as all cells in the body need it to function properly. If your aim is to continue to exercise during Ramadan, adding hydration salts or electrolytes to your water may be something you want to consider, especially if you exercise outside or lose a lot of fluids during your training. A glass of fresh fruit juice can also be a good addition to get you hydrated, as well as adding some glucose to your muscles.
  • The importance of avoiding dehydration cannot be underscored enough. Those who fast should drink about 2 to 2.5l of water between Iftar and before going to sleep, and more if exercising. 

Not everybody should, or can, fast. Some physicians say that each person need to take into account their age, potential health issues, and medical conditions. For some, exercising while fasting can pose some health risks, and should be avoided. If in doubt, do contact your health practitioner(!). If you are used to working out prior to Ramadan, then moderate exercising is likely going to go well after breaking of fast, too.

Ramadan De-load

You know Ramadan is coming. Each year. By treating Ramadan as an extended de-load period, you can increase your training volume and intensity in the weeks leading up to the month, and then use this time to rest, recover and reset. That does not mean stop all-together, rather adjusting your training to easier intensities and loads. 

The goal of training during Ramadan should be maintaining strength and fitness. I would suggest a low to moderate volume and intensity for about 45-60min. If you are fairly fit, running or doing a full body strength session 2-3 times a week may work. If you are used to higher loads and more frequent weekly sessions, then running on 2 consecutive days followed by a rest day and repeat; that may work. Or if strength training; do an upper body, lower body split can be adapted to a 2 days of consecutive training, 1 day rest, 2 days training, 2 days rest. The options are many, depending on where you are on your fitness journey.

Benefits of Fasting

Fasting has been gaining popularity as a way not just used to lose weight from fat, but can actually add both years to your life and life to your years. Fitness professionals, dietitians and coaches around the world are agreeing to adopting this method for optimum health – clearly taking a stand against the long-held beliefs of needing to eat 5-6 small meals a day. What is intermittent fasting? – In short, it is abstaining from food (not water or black coffee) for 15-20 hours a day followed by a short period during the day, 4 to 8 hours, where you consume all your daily calories and nutrients. This is similar to what you would do when fasting during Ramadan, except the water and coffee, which is ‘allowed’ in intermittent fasting. Therefore, it only makes sense to continue exercising during Ramadan in order to take full advantage of some great health benefits such as: 

  • Restoring insulin sensitivity, especially for those prone to snack on sugary foods throughout the day
  • Producing a calorie deficit which is ideal for those looking to reduce their body fat percentage
  • An increase in growth hormones which is great news for those looking to increase muscle mass and build strength
  • Lowering blood pressure, oxidative stress and even the risk of developing some cancers
  • Improving your self-discipline and mental strength, which can be carried over to all other aspects of life

There are some further gains to be made in relation to fasting during Ramadan. Your body will likely be in calorie deficit for a month provided you eat sensibly instead of stuffing yourself all night long. When you finally reintroduce your regular amount of calories and increase your intensities in training again, you can create an anabolic hormonal response and improved nutrition partitioning. That self-discipline and mental strength you’ve developed during Ramadan, coupled with a sensible post-Ramadan plan, is the time where you can see some amazing gains in both lean muscle and reduced body fat. 

Adaptations to training during Ramadan

While there are potential gains to be made, you still can’t expect to carry on as usual whilst fasting for Ramadan. The biggest adaptation you will need to make is probably your time of workout. There are two times of day when a workout would be most effective whilst fasting;

  1. Before Suhoor – training before your morning meal is when a lot of people normally train. This would during Ramadan likely mean training at 2 or 3am. If you have no issue getting up early and disrupting your normal sleeping hours, this may be the most effective time to get your training in during Ramadan since you can replenish your fluids, proteins and nutrients before, during, and after the workout itself. Only thing is; it’s going to be early. 
  2. Also after the Taraweeh prayers is a good time to exercise. The benefit of training then is that you will be able to drink throughout your training, and after, and there’s going to be a lot of time for you to get enough nutrients absorbed and digested post-training. The downside is that this may be another anti-social time to workout.

In both of the scenarios, you have to consider if there’s a gym open. If you don’t have those limitations, that makes it a lot more flexible, of course. In the end, there is no perfect time to exercise during Ramadan, it’s all about what works for you.

Dehydration is catabolic and increases your risk of injury, so be sure to stay hydrated during your workouts during Ramadan. I always suggest my students to use a potent intra-workout drink, like a lean protein shake with added BCAAs, adding some electrolytes and a Secret gel – especially for runners – to ensure they get both hydration levels up and nutrients ingested. Adding immune system boosters like Hawaiian Noni, Chlorophyll, and Calcium-Magnezium with Boron from Unicity, helps. Adequate nutrition and fluids, electrolytes, glucose and BCAAs, will improve cellular hydration and performance. 

In addition to getting enough water and quality nutrition, what you do need to consider, too, is aiming to getting enough sleep. If you don’t get your required snooze hours, it’s going to lower your energy levels, reduce your focus and concentration, as well as lead to other negative physical side effects. You surely know that it is during sleep that growth hormones are released which repair skin and muscle tissue. Reduced sleep has also been linked to decreased production of leptin peptides and higher levels of gherlin. And as you may know, leptin signals satiety to the brain and suppresses appetite while gherlin stimulates hunger. Getting these out of sync is not what you need when you’re fasting all day.


To answer this article’s title question, yes, it is possible to train during Ramadan. Modifications to intensities, frequencies, and load are likely your best strategy. At the end of the day your training and your diet will change during Ramadan, and that’s ok. The Holy Month is a unique time of year so try not to get too caught up in your training. Focus on being consistent, maintaining strength and fitness, and keep your nutrition healthy. If need be, choose quality sleep before junk miles or instead of just hitting the gym. Enjoy your Ramadan.


Posted on 4th Apr 2022