Ramadan: To Lift or Not to Lift

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A Ramadan Friendly Guide to Working Out

As the holy month of Ramadan has begun, fitness gurus are becoming ever so curious on whether exercising on an empty stomach is beneficial for your body or not. On one hand it is argued that since our body is already experiencing a deficiency in water and glycogen (stored carbohydrates), putting extra pressure on our organs to keep up with extraneous activities harms our body. On the contrary, proponents of “Fasted Cardio” propose the optimal state of fat burning to be achieved is via an empty stomach. Although this debate will most likely never be settled, I plan on shedding light on which train of thought I’ve found to be more convincing, based on scientific truths.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness” [1]

Let’s start at the very basics. What causes weight loss? Just like how wealth fluctuates with your net income (NI), your weight fluctuates with your net calorie. If you earn more money than you spend, you’ll become “richer” over time, however slow/fast the rate is. If you have a net calorie deficit, burning more calories than amount taken in, you’ll lose weight, however slow/fast the rate. The larger the deficit, the higher the rate. Your total calories burned consist of several categories of activities. They consist of:

  • Basal metabolic rate: amount of calories burned via normal bodily functions.
  • Sedentary burn: amount of calories burned via daily activities (drinking, studying, eating, talking, keyboard warrioring)
  • Exercise: amount of calories burned by extraneous activities (jogging, lifting weights)

Regardless of the means used to burn calories, your body first targets glycogen, the stored version of carbohydrates. When your body becomes deplete of carbohydrates (by burning it to fuel energy), it resorts to fats. Before you start starving yourself to prepare for your next workout, consider this fact: Our body recourses to breaking down proteins – the building blocks for muscles – once our glycogen supply reaches an alarmingly low level. It’s important to note however that this rerouting is influenced by the type of activity the body is enduring. But let’s consider this. Assuming we wake up a maximum of 10 hours after eating at suhoor (the morning meal before fasting), our body has still stored enough glycogen to fuel our morning workout. Our body is typically given 12-16 hours till it demands a top up of a meal. Therefore, technically, if you exercise after waking up, your glycogen levels won’t be low enough for your body to resort to burning proteins. This is precisely why in a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition [2], those who exercised before eating breakfast burned 20% more fat than those who ate beforehand.

Want another compelling reason to regularly fast, even outside of the month of Ramadan? Consider the study proposing the increased secretion, respectively, once there’s no food intake for a sufficient amount of time. Growth hormone facilitates for increased muscle tissue, improved bone quality and fat burn. [3] Nevertheless, the special powers terminate as our fast does. Given all these benefits though, one should observe precaution by avoiding intensive and lengthy workouts, especially for those whose goal is muscle build up. You wanted an excuse for sloppier workouts, here you go.

Consume liters upon liters upon liters of energy boosts (amino acids!) or any other calori-free supplement. Although I personally wouldn’t advise ever taking supplements because your body already supplies most of the amino acids you’ll need, for those who want to, by all means do so.

The majority of Muslims are dumbfounded when they step on a scale at the end of Ramadan only to find themselves weighing more than their weight pre-Ramadan. But why is that though? Being the smart reader that you are, by using the information provided in this article, you could easily deduce the following:

  1. Most Muslims avoid any sort of exercising during their fasts.
  2. Therefore calorie loss is at an all-time low.
  3. Most Muslims stuff themselves mercilessly at iftar (the meal after fasting)
  4. Therefore there’s an excessive quantity of calorie intake
  5. In conclusion, their net calorie is positive.

Given all these reason to exercise, you shouldn’t now focus your attention to conducting the “perfect Ramadan-friendly workout schedule” for yourself during this blessed month. As many know, this month is not an ordinary one. There are myriads of amaal (acts of obedience) for every day, by the AhlulBayt, in order to increase our ma’rifat (awareness) and nearness to Allah. Islam is a religion insisting on moderation. One shouldn’t be adopt the lifestyle of either extreme of the spectrum. Evidently, prayer is prioritized over exercising, especially within this month, but that should serve as no excuse to lay back and become a couch potato. Even ones workout schedule should be built on the intention preparing oneself for the Awaited One’s return. For surely, every act, be it spiritually geared or not, could serve as a means of purifying our soul and grasping a better understanding of Allah.

:قال الرضا عليه السلام

مَنْ قَرَأَ فِي شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ آيةً مِنْ كِتَابِ اللهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ كَانَ كَمَنْ خَتَمَ القُرْآنَ فِي غَيْرِهِ مِنَ الشُّهُورِ

Imam Ridha (peace be upon him) has said:

One, who recites one verse from the Book of Allah, The Mighty The Glorious, in the month of Ramadan, is like one, who has recited the entire Qur’an in the other months. [4]


[1] Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 183 [2] Javier T. Gonzalez, Rachel C. Veasey, Penny L. S. Rumbold and Emma J. Stevenson (2013). Breakfast and exercise contingently affect postprandial metabolism and energy balance in physically active males. British Journal of Nutrition, 110, pp 721-732. doi:10.1017/S0007114512005582. [3] Intermountain Medical Center. “Routine periodic fasting is good for your health, and your heart, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2011. [4] Bihar al-Anwar, Vol.: 93, Pg.: 34

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Amir Ghafarian

Amir M. Ghafarian, born in Iran, has an unconditional affinity towards shawarma and kabob. He reads too, sometimes, and occasionally writes.

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