Nutrition considerations when fasting for Ramadan during training and competition
As a sports dietitian, anytime I hear athletes fasting as a part of their training my radar goes up due to risks of under fueling, dehydration, and risks for poor recovery and sports performance. But if you observe fasting for Ramadan, other religious holidays, or medical reasons, you need to make the necessary adjustments with your training and eating to continue to train safely without it compromising your performance and energy.
Ramadan is a time where Muslims take part in a daily fast from dawn until dusk over a 30-day period. Challenges of fasting during the day obviously can impact energy levels when training and impair recovery if training adjustments are not made. Challenges include increased risk of low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia), poor muscle glycogen stores, and dehydration. Adjusting training times to either early AM (before sunrise) or later (sunset), as well as adjusting eating times before training, during, and after, are important to optimize energy levels and muscle recovery, as well as prevent dehydration and hypoglycemia.
Tips to adjust nutrition and training during Ramadan:
Consider waking up before the pre-dawn meal to eat and hydrate. Eat a meal containing protein (meats, milk/yogurt, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts) and carbs (whole grains, fruit) to help with muscle recovery and restore muscle glycogen stores.
Break the evening fast with a pre-workout snack at sunset before training with a quick acting carb and small amount of protein to be able to train with enough energy. Small snacks may include: yogurt and fruit or peanut butter toast and a banana with fluids.
Consider eating earlier in training, within the first 20 minutes, to supply quick energy from carbs during workouts lasting longer than 60 minutes.
Post-fast training, recover with a larger meal containing adequate protein, around 20-40 gram of protein plus healthy carbs to restock muscle glycogen stores and to repair and rebuild muscles.
Before bedtime, continuing eating a small snack containing carbs and protein since you are limited to eating only 2-3 times after sunset before bedtime. Consider eating a sandwich, protein smoothie, cheese and crackers with fruit, or leftovers from dinner.
Consider adjusting sleep and awake times before sunrise to fit in additional eating times.
Fit in a nap during the day to maintain enough sleep time due to waking up earlier (before sunrise).
Avoid caffeine to adjust to different sleep times and maximize on quality sleep time.
Drink enough fluids during non-fasted hours to prevent dehydration.
Consider adjusting training load or intensity during Ramadan to avoid over training when under eating and increased risk of injuries when not sleeping or eating well during fasting.
If you choose to fast you may need to scale back your training load since eating and sleeping can be negatively impacted during fasting. But if you train smart and maximize on your nutrition during non-fasting times, you can prevent dehydration and impaired muscle recovery to be able to compete well. As always, please reach out to your medical provider or sports dietitian if you need additional guidance with fasting during training or competing.