Fasting or intermittent fasting is a religious obligation practiced in many faiths. Not only is it a religious duty but also a way of achieving physical detox and mental health. You can practice it both for spirituality and achieving optimal health and fitness.
In this blog, I will explain the type of fasting practiced in Islam and in other non-religious practices, why is fasting good for your health and fitness? and how you can practice it to gain maximum benefits? But before that, I will give you an overview of what it does to your body, how safe is it to fast and workout and what are the health benefits of fasting? Going through all these questions, being a practicing Muslim, fasting at least for a whole month of Ramadan, I will explain how you can carry your fitness routine while fasting.
What happens during Fasting?
Normally, the cells in our body don’t go through different healthy processes. Fasting is a way to activate healthy processes that lead to cleaning the body of toxins and forcing the cells into activities that are impossible to stimulate in presence of a steady food stream. While fasting, the body lacks access to the usual glucose, forcing the cells to adjust and produce energy through other means e.g. through burning fats.
Is it Safe to Exercise while Fasting?
For fitness enthusiasts, especially people in weight loss and muscle gain programs, fasting is a way to achieve those goals because besides calories and exercise there is a 3rd thing that needs to be taken care of, and that is hormones optimization.
Fasting will optimize your hormones!
Studies have demonstrated high benefits in combining even intermittent fasting with exercises like sprint training.
Combines these two makes you more insulin sensitive and as a result shapes you into a more lean and youthful person.
As far as safety is concerned while exercising, a low to mid-intensity workout won’t harm you in any way while fasting. But if you are a total beginner, stick to the low-intensity workout.
Your body is well capable to bear the pressure of lack of food and water if your fasting is going to last anywhere between 12-21 hours. But it is better to be on the safer side 1st and test your limits with a low intensity workout 1st.
The water fast in comparison is easier to practice and safer to combine with exercising because then you are fasting but allowed to drink water and it is usually the thirst that is more common after exercising.
Check out the video below to know the 5 reasons why you should exercise while fasting:
Can you Exercise on an Empty Stomach?
It is totally OK to exercise on an empty stomach.
In fact, it increases the benefits because you are combining two healthy activities together. Experts consider it a multi-therapeutic approach, meaning that the synergy of two things that are individually healthy, are promoting and boosting each other’s benefits to an extent that surpasses the levels of each combined.
The best way to gain both these advantages at least at a minor level is to workout in the morning before your breakfast.
Health Benefits of Fasting
Fasting has health benefits beyond weight loss. It creates a sense of gratitude towards the gifts we are blessed with by nature. It also reminds us to remember the poor who are struggling to get 3 meals a day. Below are the top 5 health benefits of fasting:
- Fasting boosts cognitive performance
- It is good for weight loss and protects against diseases associated with obesity
- Fasting decreases the risks of metabolic diseases
- Improves the overall health
- and reduces inflammation
Intermittent Fasting and Working Out
A work out before breakfast is a good way of saying that you exercised during an intermittent fast. Because an intermittent fast can be any portion within the 24-hour clock that your body is not getting any food in, and that includes the time you are sleeping.
The window of intermittent fasting begins when you consume your last bite of the last food you ate or drank something other than water and it ends the time when you take your first bite of food.
To get the best benefits, length of an intermittent fast should be anywhere between 16 to 18 hours.
For example, eat food between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. That will be the easiest way to practice an intermittent fast.
And the thing about workout while intermittent fasting is that it mostly takes water out of your body, which is not a problem because you can still drink water.
When to Work Out While Intermittent Fasting
The best time is usually upon waking up, or shortly after it to support the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Studies have shown that working out or eating in hours close to the bedtime can disturb the levels of deep sleep. Hence, it is better to save the exercising time for the following day.
Don’t eat directly after a workout for the purpose of optimizing the hormones and you are all good to go.
Studies suggest that even waiting 2 to 3 hours post workout before eating anything, promotes a rise in growth hormone, which makes your body a fat burner and replaces the used energy ( i.e. mostly sugar).
This hormone shift occurs because the body is lacking calories from food to burn and is now adapting to the stress created from a high-intensity workout by using fats in the body.
If your timetable only favors a lunchtime workout, you can optimize your hormones by exercising in your available time, and refraining to eat anything until two to three hours after exercising.
Cardio and Intermittent Fasting
Cardio exercising while intermittent fasting is OK, but it depends a lot on how good your body is in fat burning. If it is taking the glucose levels down and not relying on burning fats, it will be better not to cardio workout while Intermittent fasting because then it will be more harmful than good.
If you’re new to fasting and exercising, it is important to adapt first and increase the intensity and try different types of exercises later because your body is not yet ready to absorb that much.
You can expect a performance drop compared to working out in a usual way (i.e. without fasting), and it can take up to six months to adapt to such endurance.
But once you get used to this new source of fuel to the body, the performance will get to the normal.
Sprint Training and Intermittent Fasting
Sprint training involves intervals of intense workout that lifts the heart rate, combined with rest for about 15-30 minutes.
Some of it’s benefits include:
- increased strength and stamina in the muscles and brain
- increased growth hormones
- improved body composition
- improved brain functioning
- higher testosterone levels, and
- less depression.
Sprint training with intermittent fasting can improve all these benefits. It is an ideal exercise to incorporate into your fasted period.
Lifting Weights and Fasting
Lifting weights while fasting is not totally OK. You have to be mindful about the role of glucose in repairing the muscles after a major weight-lifting session.
And in case of fasting, that care is even more relevant to be aware of.
While exercising in a fasted state, the glycogen stores are already depleted and they get a re-boost only after eating.
In that scenario, heavy lifting is not safe in any way while working out. Because you are not providing your body anything to recover from the damaged muscles.
Heavy lifting puts enough stress on the body that it requires an immediate re-feed through a post workout meal.
Fasting in different Religions
Fasting is practiced in many religions and theologies. It has many variations in different religions but in most of them eating is limited to nights only. As far as the time period is concerned, it can be a few hours or from sunrise to sunset based on the religion you are following. Same goes for the number of fasts you have to keep e.g. Muslims fast for a whole month of Ramadan. That’s 29 or 30 days every year.
Some religions in which fasting is practiced as an obligatory or non-obligatory practice include Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Jainism, and Hinduism.
Let’s look at how fasting is practiced in Islam:
Fasting in Islam:
Muslims fast for the whole month of Ramadan. This year it was between 13th April 2021 and 12 May 2021. That’s the time when in most Muslim countries the summer is just about to begin and by the time Ramadan ended it was full summer.
There are 355 days in the Islamic calendar, that’s why due to the 10 days difference with the Gregorian Calendar, the month of fasting for Muslims is not limited to 1 season throughout their life. Someone who has fasted in the month of Ramadan for 36.5 years has already kept a fast on every date of the widely used Gregorian calendar.
Another thing is that Islam is not limited to a particular geography. Muslims live everywhere in the world. And the obligation of fasting from sunrise to sunset means in some countries like Argentina, the duration of fasting is no more than 10 hours while in countries like England and other Western European regions, the duration can stretch up to 20 hours.
Still, if you are fasting in Asia or Africa, your fast is way tougher than in England. Mainly because of the weather. The scorching sun and the lack of wind makes it much tougher in these regions. Duration of fasting in Asia and Africa is between 14-17 hours.
Gym Timings in Muslim Countries in Ramadan
In my country Pakistan, gyms in Ramadan open after Iftaar (time of breaking your fast) and they stay open till the pre-dawn meal. I’m sure this will be the case in most of the Muslim world because, in the daytime, it’s almost impossible to work out.
Workouts take a lot out of your body and you need to fuel it up at least with the fluids immediately. If you want to work out in the daytime during Ramadan, it will be better to keep it at low intensity otherwise it can get very uncomfortable. I once went for a run just 30 minutes before Iftaar and it dried my throat to an extent that it was very uncomfortable to bear.
Workout and prayers plan for Muslims in Ramadan
Keep your mid to heavy-intensity workouts reserved for the time after Iftaar and before the pre-dawn meal because in that time you are not restricted to eat and drink. Of course, pray the Taraweeh (the Sunnah prayer of Ramadan) and your Tahajjuds (the not obligatory but high rewarding prayer that Muslims pray in the last hours of the night) plus it is recommended to sleep before waking up for Tahajjud because this is how you can maximize the ajar (reward) of Tahajjud. Inshort, to balance everything together you have to manage the deen (religion) and Dunya (world) very pro-actively after Iftaar. 😀 There is no time for laziness and wasting in Ramadan 🙂
If you are a fitness enthusiast who also wants to pray and balance everything in Ramadan, you have to wisely use that time after Iftaar. It won’t be easy but surely is fun, rewarding, and challenging. Be brave and just do it 😀
How to Exercise while Intermittent Fasting?
In obligatory fasting, like in some religions discussed above you can’t change the number of hours in a fast. Self designed intermittent-fasting is a bit different.
If the goal of fasting is to work out your body rather than a religious obligation, you can do as much as extending the hours of fast a little longer. For example, you can skip breakfast and lunch and eat the 1st meal at sunset. This way you are technically fasting for 16 hours in most parts of the world.
For physical exercise, while fasting, it will be difficult to do any kind of intense workout while you are fasting and living in a place that is warm. Either skip your exercising to the hours of not fasting or do a low to mid-intensity workout that won’t pace up your breath or make you crave food and water.
If you are working out while fasting, even if it’s a low-intensity workout, you will feel the urge to eat or drink something. And it is totally OK to live that way for a few hours. There is no harm in it and occasionally doing it is good for your body. Your body will look for other sources to fulfill its energy requirements like burning down the fats and using it for energy. That is good for your overall health.
See what Dr. Berg says on this topic:
How to Exercise while Water Fasting?
Water fasting is easier in comparison to a total no food and drinks fasting. You can go up to mid-intensity workouts in water fasting because the body mostly craves fluids during and after a workout.
Water fasting basically is a type of fasting in which you skip all the eating and rely only on water throughout the period of fasting.
So unlike usual fasting, you can work out anytime while water fasting. Again you can use some of the tips Dr. Berg gave in the video above to keep your fasting effective and healthy.
What else will you like to be answered on the topic of fasting or anything on health in general? Do reach out to us with your queries here.