UAE: Is it good to sweat it out in the gym while fasting in Ramadan?

Local fitness expert offers insights on the pros and cons of working out during Ramadan


Husain Rizvi

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Published: Tue 18 Apr 2023, 3:42 PM

Last updated: Tue 18 Apr 2023, 4:23 PM

Every Ramadan, fitness enthusiasts face the challenge of meeting their fitness goals, or maintaining themselves without having to gain unnecessary body fat.

Schedules go for a toss when those who practice fasting build new routines; the gym rush hour changes to around 10pm. But there are many who engage in fitness activities during their fast.

Working out while fasting isn't entirely a new concept to gym addicts. It is widely practiced by those who are looking to burn body fat.

Josef Rakich, a professional fitness expert, who recently moved to Dubai, explains how our body works while fasting. "When you're working out in a fasted state, your body is empty. It's got nothing in there, so your body has to tap into its stored energy. Your stored energy is your body fat because that is excess calories that have been stored in your body," he says in a conversation with City Times.

"So working out while fasting is going to help you burn fat during your workout. When you've got no energy from food, you've got no carbs, you've got no glycogen in your system, the next best energy source to use is fat, and your body pulls that from your stored body fat, using that as energy."

Josef during one of his workout sessions
Josef during one of his workout sessions

He adds that working out during this period also has many other benefits like detoxing the body, releasing and increasing growth hormones and more.

In Ramadan, however, those who work out while fasting are doing so in a dry fast state. That means, abstaining from both food and water, or any form of liquid energy boosters.

We came across a few people in the gym who practice this method. All of them had one aim in common; losing excess body fat, maintaining muscle mass, and toning the body.

It is very hard to bulk (increase muscle mass) in a dry fasting state as for that, Josef says, one simply needs to be in a calorie surplus and not in a calorie deficit. That means, consuming more calories than you burn on a daily basis.

Most of these gym goers, work out just before their fast ends. Either they complete their workout and get home just in time for Iftar, or end their fasts in the gym with a single date, water, or even a protein shake.

Rahaf Abu Saleh, a 24-year-old Jordanian MBA student residing in Dubai, says her fitness goal is to maintain muscle mass and tone her body. And working out in a dry fasting state has helped her maintain and achieve her goal. Giving due credit to her trainer, she said, "My trainer has inspired me to try working out during fasting as it is a great way to try something new instead of doing the same routine over and over again."

"Surprisingly, I am more energised but feel thirsty by the end of my workout. It is crucial to have a well-balanced meal for Suhoor (the meal one has before the fasting period begins, usually consumed at dawn) to give your body strength throughout the day," she added.

Rameez Chohan, a Pakistan expat in Dubai since 2011, is another fitness enthusiast who used the dry fasting method to achieve his fat loss goal, in addition to staying fit physically and mentally.

"Initially, I thought it will be tough but the very first day, I was feeling so good and energetic. This method has helped me get closer to my goals," he said.

When asked if it is better to work out in a dry fasting state, Rameez said, "Yes, for me it is. I don't feel lazy and it gives me more strength and stamina."

So this method, or in fact any method, boils down to personal preferences. It all depends on whether one's body can handle that pressure or not.

Aya Chawa, a Lebanese expat, who works in Dubai as a nutritionist, says her main fitness goal is to build strength.

"Working out in a dry fasting state I wouldnt say helped me achieve it, but it is more of a 'I'm fasting AND I have to work out, so something is better than none.' Even if the workout wasn't intense, it would still be better than not working out at all," she said. "Personally, working out in this state means I would have less energy and it would have to be less intense."

There's no "ideal state" for exercise, Aya says, "For some it is more comfortable to exercise in a dry fasted state. Of course, food is our fuel, however, psychology also plays a role. So it is more about finding out what works best for you as an individual."

While there are reportedly increased benefits, this practice also comes with its own share of concerns, primarily dehydration and risk of injury.

One has to be cautious and careful training in a dehydrated state; you may get dizzy. "Keep it a good workout, but don't do anything crazy," Josef said. "You're not trying to break any records, but what you could also do is once the fast does end, consume some water and a little bit of food and train after that, then have your big meal later."

Nur, an Arab fitness freak is someone who follows this method and ends his fast in the gym. "I have a protein shake ready when it is time to end my fast," said Nur, whose goal is to get shredded and maintain it. He hasn't achieved his fitness goals yet but is "definitely" making more progress than usual. However, Nur does feel weaker, he admits, though he insists his workouts are more rewarding as well.

Tips and tricks for working out in a dry fasting state

Josef Rakich

The best thing, in my opinion, is just to understand all the benefits that come from fasting. Once you know all the benefits, it makes you feel mentally clear and focused when you're in a fasted state because your body is running off ketones. Once you understand these benefits, you will actually want to stay and be in a fasted state majority of the time because you know you're getting benefit from doing it.

In general, the best tip that I can give anyone in regards to fitness and trying to achieve their dream physique is consistency. Consistency is always number one above everything. Yes, you need a good diet and a good training program. But if you're not consistent with the good diet and the good training program, you're not going to get results. Most people don't get results because they're not consistent. You just have to commit and if you can do that, you'll get amazing results.

Rahaf Abu Saleh

I encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and try working out while fasting. It may sound challenging, however, it is worth the try. If you feel like you need a push, never feel shy to ask for help, especially if you have the chance to ask for help from a personal trainer. I have been training with my trainer for a year now, and I have never been more proud of where my body is at now and how well I have achieved my fitness goals.

Rameez Chohan

It has a lot to do with discipline and consistency. If you do the right amount of workout, with discipline and consistence, and have a well-balanced diet, you will achieve your goals soon.

Aya Chawa

Most importantly, have Suhoor with all the macros (complex carbs for energy, protein to preserve the muscle mass, and some healthy fats), make sure you are getting enough protein, and finally stay fairly hydrated.

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