Working out during Ramadan

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During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and water throughout the day. Although difficult, it is possible to still maintain your fast and continue to exercise. In fact, there are many benefits associated with fasting and exercise in combination. Nevertheless, there are potential risks, so it is important to understand what to do to be safe.اضافة اعلان

What happens to the body without food?

Our body needs energy on a constant basis in order to function properly. Normally, three square meals provide the sustenance we need. From the meals we obtain sugar in the form of glucose; this is the body’s main source of fuel.

After a meal, the body releases a hormone known as insulin. Insulin is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar circulating in the blood stream. Excess glucose is converted by insulin into glycogen which is subsequently stored in the liver and skeletal muscles. Glycogen is a source of fuel that is more or less readily available, but once at capacity, insulin converts glycogen further into fatty acids, which are stored as body fat, called adipose tissue. Adipose tissue is difficult to burn, but contains a high amount of energy.

During fasting, the amount of free circulating glucose begins to lower and as a result, a hormone known as glucagon is released; it converts glycogen back into glucose. Depending on the level of nourishment, glycogen stores can provide the body with energy for 24 hours. Past this point, the body has to rely on adipose tissue to provide energy.

Fat cells are broken down into glucose and ketone bodies, which are an amazing source of energy for the heart, brain, and muscles, and are more efficient at providing energy than glucose. During this time, there will be a huge reduction in body weight as the body continues to utilize the stored body fat. Once the reserve of body fat is gone, the body will turn to amino acids as a source of fuel. Amino acids are the building block of proteins, which make up nearly all parts of the body.

Benefits of fasting and exercise

One of the biggest benefits of exercising and fasting is the amount of weight loss. Weight loss generally depends on creating a calorie deficit. This can be achieved by limiting calorie intake (restricting eating) or increasing calorie expenditure (exercising). By combing fasting with exercising, one creates even more of a deficit.

Furthermore, due to fasting, changes in how the body metabolizes fuel sources could potentially allow for significant weight loss over a short period of time. Additionally, fasting releases several hormones that aid in weight loss and metabolism, such as noradrenaline and human growth hormone (HGH).

In type 2 diabetics, fasting can help maintain glucose levels and even improve insulin sensitivity. Fasting is also good for those who suffer from chronic pain brought on by inflammation, especially in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fasting can reduce the levels of inflammatory markers in as quickly as one month.

Fasting also has benefits for the heart. Decreased levels of inflammatory markers may reduce the risk of developing heart diseases. Additionally, burning fat can help reduce the amount of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Research into fasting is still going on, but there is promise that it prevents and manages certain conditions.

Although limited to animal testing, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s may be prevented or slowed with the reduction in inflammation, and potentially due to the formation and utilization of ketone bodies. However, more research is still needed.

Animal testing has found that fasting can help block tumor formation and can also increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Fasting may also delay aging and help with longevity, but long-term research in humans is still needed.

Exercising has many benefits that overlap with those of fasting. This includes weight loss, diabetes management, and reduction in inflammation. It has greater benefit for the heart and can dramatically lower and control blood pressure while also preventing many heart conditions.

Concerns about fasting and exercise

Although exercise and fasting have benefits, the two in combination can come at a risk if one is not cautious. One of the main concerns is dehydration. During Ramadan, abstaining from drinking water puts you at risk of dehydration, especially in hot weather. Fasting and exercising may contribute to significant water loss, which may cause cramps or heatstroke and in severe cases, seizures due to electrolyte imbalance or hypovolemic shock (low blood volume).

Another concern with exercising while fasting is hypoglycemia, which occurs when there is not enough free circulating glucose in the blood stream. Despite the body having reserves of glucose in the form of glycogen, there may not be enough, or the body may not be able to keep up with the increased demand. Hypoglycemia may present as irregular or fast heart rate, shaking, anxiety, sweating, tingling or numbness in the lips or fingers, and in severe cases visual disturbances, seizures, or loss of consciousness.

Lastly, muscle loss might be a concern for those who are trying to gain muscle. During the transition from glycogen to adipose utilization, there is a brief period where bulky muscle is used as a fuel source.

How to exercise safely

If done correctly and safely, there should be no concern about exercising during Ramadan. One of the most important things to consider is timing. Exercising in the morning should generally be avoided, since it will leave you exhausted throughout the day and potentially dehydrated.

For those who prefer to workout on an empty stomach, working out shortly before the time you break your fast is an option, but that may depend on local gym hours.

Ideally, working out during the time when eating and drinking is allowed is the safest option, but that will mean adjusting your schedule to exercise at night.

Replenishing vital nutrients is important when exercising. Primarily, this includes carbohydrates to replenish the stores of glycogen, protein (especially for those who are looking to gain muscle), water, and electrolytes. Good sources of carbohydrates breads and pasta, while good sources of protein are nuts, shakes, or lean meat, like chicken. For electrolytes, sports drinks contain high amounts of sugar which can help manage glucose levels while fasting, but may interfere with weight loss goals. For those looking for a good alternative to sports drinks, coconut water is a suggestion.

Finally, it is important to listen to your body. If you decide to work out while fasting and you begin to experience any symptoms of hypoglycemia or dehydration, it is important to assess whether to lower your intensity or stop the exercise altogether.

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