Carb loading & fasted training when observing Ramadan

By Stephanie Karl, Sports Nutritionist from UPANDRUNNING

The observance of Ramadan hours this year will fall between around 6am until 7pm – a definite consequence for training and performance of the competitive athlete. Falling mostly in April, it is not the hottest part of the year and daylight hours are around eleven hours.

Over the daylight hours, as fasting progresses, blood sugar and tissue hydration decrease progressively causing limitations of anaerobic effort, endurance performance and muscle strength due to an increase of dipping into muscle glycogen and body fluid reserves. Some people are more sensitive to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level), which can affect mood, increased perception of effort and less focus on team work. 

This can become a real challenge when athletes keeping Ramadan hours are taking part in competitive events especially those timed in the evening.

Research shows that training is not significantly disrupted by ‘early morning’ training where meals can provide the carbohydrate intake and fluid either in the meal before sleeping, around 4-6 hours as well as a top up of carbohydrates and fluids with electrolytes in the 60-90 minutes pre-dawn training as well as leaving time to rehydrate, restore muscle mass with protein and top up carbs in the hour after training but before dawn.

As is recommended for normal pre endurance meal planning, starchy carbs are key to topping up glycogen stores and could be taken as the last meal before bed. Bread, rice, potato, oats, pulses and corn are starchy and referred to as glucose polymers. These will easily cross the intestinal membrane at a slower pace and can also remain in the intestine for a slow release even during exercise.

Other carbohydrate strategies include quick active carbs drinks, gels, sucrose sweets, dates, bananas, carbohydrate bars taken during exercise according to the length of time you are training. Under 90 minutes is more reliant on pre training carb loading, while anything over 90 minutes may require some top up strategies and usually will start in the first hour.

Fluid intake is enhanced by the addition of electrolytes and a low carb of around 4g/100ml. Your hydration needs depend on a number of things such as body size, sweat rate, humidity, temperature, and tend to fall somewhere in between 600-900ml per hour – minimum intake of about 125ml every 15 minutes. This can be a combination of water and sports drinks. Snacks can boost carbs and salt to meet needs.

Training in the evening, before breaking your fast, is more like training fasted and can have some benefits for weight management if required. One of the downsides of this is that depleted muscle glycogen stores may start to dip into using valuable protein from muscle as an energy fuel rather than just using fat. The intensity of your training will also steer this as stored fat can only be used exercising at lower intensities. If you find this time to be more convenient, keep your heart rate down to try and keep your fueling in the fat burning zone.

Posted on 25th Mar 2022