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Reema’s View: Balancing training and fasting during Ramadan

April 13, 2022
2022 Season

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic Calendar. Observed by Muslims worldwide, Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, prayer and reflection. Muslims fast for the entire month, from sunrise until sunset, and the end of the month is usually celebrated with the religious holiday, EidAl-Fitr.

Now, having settled into her Ramadan routine, Reema reflects on what the month means to her and how she balances her training schedule with fasting.

What does the month of Ramadan signify to you?


For me, it’s a time to slow down. I like to spend time with my family and take the time to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while, usually surrounded by lots of great food.

 

On a personal level, it’s also a nice time to reflect and give back, to clear my mind and appreciate the people and things around me.

 

As a racing driver with a varied schedule, how do you balance fasting and training?


Ultimately, I have to change my training routine to align with the fasting. When I am at home, I move my training plan depending on my day. If I have a very late meal, for example at 12am, I do my first workout when I wake up, because my body is still fuelled. I choose not to do anything intensive, so I opt for strength work or ‘Zone 2’ work [typically the lowest zone used for training purposes], so nothing too strenuous.

 

If I end up eating at a normal time, then I will usually do something just before futoor [the evening meal upon which Muslims break their fast], for example playing tennis or doing a bit of strength work.

 

The balance is also in what I am eating during futoor. As soon as I break my fast, I try not to overeat because I’ll get quite tired very quickly. Generally, I hydrate and let that settle, and try and get my blood sugar back as I can feel quite lightheaded at that point, so I listen to my body. After a while, I’ll usually have a light meal.

The balance is listening to my body, fuelling it in the right way and training with what feels right at the time.

Does your diet change at all during the month of Ramadan?


Yes, it does. I try not to have any coffee. I’m not a big coffee drinker usually, but the first couple of days of Ramadan, I had a headache, and I think it was because of the lack of caffeine.

 

I also avoid dairy, but that’s a part of my regular routine. It’s not any different in Ramadan but it is harder because of all the outings which means lots food and dessert! I try to avoid having sugar straight away and have natural sugars only.

 

What changes to your training do you make during the month of Ramadan? Do you focus more on weight training/cardio etc?


I have a schedule that I go by, but depending on the day, I can move things around. I find that there’s certain things my body can do while fasting, but there are other things I can’t ask it to do without having eaten. You can become lightheaded or fatigued quite quickly, so I avoid doing anything too strenuous.

 

I do a lot more stretching and focus on recovery if I feel like I’m not 100% ready to do a workout. Then I’ll do some mobility exercises, which I’m very behind most of the time! I find that I can spend more time on these activities in Ramadan, because I’m not rushing to go to the gym or do my training.


Have you ever attempted to fast and compete in the past?


No. I have done some testing, which is actually tougher than competing, and I’ve found that for me, it’s not something I can do because I’m not as alert and I don’t feel 100%. In my sport, it’s dangerous, especially when I’m on track for long periods of time.

 

Have you ever tried to fit intermittent fasting (where you only eat between a time-restrictive window in the day) into your routine?


Yes, I have. When I have a bit more of a regular schedule, I’ll take a day or two in the week, and miss breakfast to then have a late lunch. I generally have an early dinner, so I’ll regularly do a 15 or 16 hour fast.

 

I choose to do it because I’ve learnt that it’s good to have variety and break routine sometimes, so I try to do that where I’m quite busy in the morning or have a lot going on. I like the flexibility of adapting and changing things, depending on how I feel. I think intermittent fasting works, especially when you’re travelling or when you want to change things up a little bit.

 

What advice would you give to other athletes attempting to fast and train at the same time?


From my experience of training and fasting, it’s definitely about listening to your body. You may not be able to do the same volume of training, but you can train efficiently. For me, it’s about having a good plan and timing it right.

 

You can also choose to focus on other things, which for me, have been activities such as mobility training and self-reflection. All of these things are a part of my training and a part of what we need as humans.

 

I think it’s good to take this time and incorporate other things that you’ve been lacking - kind of what people did during the lockdowns. They ended up cooking, reading and getting into yoga.

 

What do you enjoy most about Ramadan?


In Saudi, Ramadan is different to anywhere else. It’s unique. I like how the whole country adapts to the holy month… you feel like everyone is in this together. I like how it brings people together, encourages giving back, positivity and reflection.

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