Cycling while fasting during Ramadan

Words by Dr. Eliza Hafiz

For many Muslim cyclists around the world, Ramadan is a time of focusing on their religious growth and reinforcing their faith, with worldly concerns taking a bit of a backseat. However, more and more people now are adopting a more balanced approach to the fasting month, aiming to keep up certain habits that ensure their long-term health and physical fitness, while doing a little bit extra on the spiritual side.

For many modern-day Muslims, training is a necessary part of life, instilling discipline in their daily or weekly routine and increasing their mental fortitude. Reset your targets for the month so that you also manage your expectations. Aim to maintain your pre-Ramadan physical strength and endurance, rather than improving performance.

The good news is that as with all things, striking that balance is possible with proper time management and pre-planning. Small tweaks to your exercise or training regime can make wonders during this month, rather than sinking into a slump from inactivity. This advice can also apply to non-Muslims who practice some form of fasting - ritualistic, intermittent or otherwise.

Choose your exercise time wisely.

 

- 60 minutes can be quite a long workout for one without water and food, I reckon exercising close to the break fast time is fairly realistic for most people. This is not just to ensure the body doesn’t go into a state of dehydration, but most importantly to maintain the interest in training during Ramadhan.

 

- If you are on a plan and need to do a strengthening program or interval training, it’s best to do this early morning right before the Sahur meal while you can still eat and drink. Another option is to train later after breaking your fast.

This is because the energy used during interval/strength training is mostly in glycogen form which means carbohydrate. Carbohydrate gets digested quickly and produces energy quickly, but carbohydrate supply cannot last long compared with fat supply. If you are training during the period of fasting, cut the session short, to not more than 45 minutes. Training beyond this time will increase the likelihood of cramping and muscle damage, and also prolong your recovery time.

 

- Avoid training under the hot sun as this will increase the likelihood of dehydration and all manner of heat-related injuries.

Change how you workout

 

- Train mainly to maintain cardiovascular fitness, which means low intensity + long duration. This resembles riding on relatively flat ground for a minimum of 60 minutes. If you train with a heart rate monitor, this means working with your HR not exceeding zone 3. If you are training with a power meter, this means your power output should be no more than 70-75% of your Functional Threshold Power or FTP.

Do cross training.

 

- Alternate your cycling day with a slow run/jog or a swim when you are feeling worn out. This will also ensure faster recovery, therefore allowing you to keep up with your training routine. Cross training is also useful when you hit a plateau in your progress, by shocking your muscles out of their normal routine.

The placebo effect

 

- If you are doing interval/strength training, rinsing your mouth with carbohydrate filled drinks (which means anything sweet) or just normal water have both been found to have ergogenic effects. This has been known to help improve the endurance performance of many cyclists - just make sure you don’t swallow it if you’re actually fasting for religious reasons!

Replenish what you use up

 

- Rehydrate and reload your nutrition sufficiently immediately after you break fast. Eating well in addition to training smart will help maintain your fitness even though you don’t make significant gains at a time when your body is most likely not working at optimal capacity.