How to avoid dehydration when exercising in Ramadan?

How to avoid dehydration when exercising in Ramadan?

The biggest concern for fasting fitness is not hunger… it’s thirst.

SUMMARY: Many Muslims often wonder whether it is safe to exercise on an empty stomach. However, in Ramadan, the most significant risk to consider when exercising is undoubtedly the effects of dehydration. This article will help you understand the risks of dehydrated exercise, and give you practical advice to protect yourself when working out this Ramadan!  

 

Picture this: It’s a few hours before iftar, and you decide to try to exercise. You get ready to workout, but notice your throat is extremely parched and you feel quite thirsty. Do you “push through” the thirst and exercise…? Or, do you skip your workout for the day…? 

If you’ve ever been curious about exercise in Ramadan, a quick preliminary online search about fasting fitness turns up several blog articles, online advice columns and experts expounding the enhanced fat-burn potential and benefits of fasted workouts. Exercising while “fasted” may promote increased fat loss as your body depletes the calories from your last meal, and proceeds to tap into stored fat as fuel.

While it’s true that fasted exercise may be a helpful tool to aid in weight loss, unfortunately, the majority of studies and blogs about “fasting fitness” are based on research on the effects of exercise while performing Intermittent Fasting and thus do NOT completely apply during Ramadan.

Intermittent Fasting is a popular style of dieting in which you restrict your eating window. You CAN drink but CANNOT eat for extended periods of time, usually for 12-24 hours at a time. Similarly, in Ramadan, we also restrict our eating window between dawn and sunset. However, during Intermittent Fasting, you can DRINK water as well as ingest calorie-free muscle-repairing supplements (e.g. BCAAs) to sustain your body during exercise and prevent muscle breakdown and dehydration. Obviously, in Ramadan, this is not the case. During fasting hours, Muslims abstain entirely from both food AND drink, resulting in a high risk of dehydration when exercising while fasting during Ramadan.

Because of this key difference, Intermittent Fasting guidelines for exercise CANNOT be applied to Ramadan. There is very little reliable, research-based information about exercising in Ramadan available to help Muslims get active in a safe way in this blessed month.

In order to decide how you will be exercising in Ramadan, it’s important to get an accurate picture as to what your body will be going through while fasting.

There are many factors to consider while exercising during Ramadan, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Muscle preservation
  • Enhanced fat loss
  • Reductions in exercise performance while fasting
  • Workout timings

 

In this EXERCISE IN RAMADAN article series, we have reviewed the literature on fasting fitness, dehydration, athletic performance in Ramadan and intermittent fasting, in an attempt to provide you with a comprehensive, research-based guide to Ramadan fitness to empower you to make informed decisions as to how you will exercise this month. We also provide suggested schedules for multiple different timings to exercise in Ramadan to fit you and your lifestyle.

SAFETY NOTE: The following recommendations are based on current research findings. As research advances, these recommendations may change. Realise that MUCH further research in the field of Ramadan fitness is required. We have done our best to provide you with a selection of the existing literature so you can make informed decisions. Always prioritise safety during your workout and never exercise if you feel unwell or uncomfortable. Stop exercising immediately if you experience dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, nausea or weakness during exercise.

 

Dehydration is defined as “the excessive loss of body water through conditions such as diarrhea, sweating, or urinary losses” (1). Every part of your body needs water to function. Your body also depends upon food and drink to replenish its fluid stores. Thirst is the most common indicator of dehydration, but note that dehydration can also occur before you become excessively thirsty. Medical News highlights the following symptoms of early and severe dehydration(2):

Recent studies have also indicated that recurrent “mild dehydration may be a risk factor in the progression of all types of chronic kidney diseases(1), such as kidney stones or kidney failure. In the worst case scenario, severe dehydration may lead to hypovolemic shock, or low blood volume shock. This is when there is a large reduction in fluid in your body that significantly decreases blood pressure to dangerous levels. Your body’s vital organs and tissues aren’t able to get an adequate blood supply and become at risk of failing! Hypovolemic shock is a serious condition that requires immediate management in hospital.

What can you do to combat the effects of dehydration if you are exercising in Ramadan?

Needless to say, it is essential to avoid and prevent the serious health consequences of dehydration during exercise in Ramadan. As Muslims, we are instructed to avoid self-harm, as our bodies are a responsibility and a trust. It is also imperative to avoid exercising that you may have to break your fast due to medical concerns.

However, this does not mean that you cannot exercise at all during this blessed month! There are several steps you can take to avoid the symptoms of dehydration while maintaining an active lifestyle during Ramadan.

  1. Realise that you can exercise in Ramadan during non-fasting intervals. Read the WHEN SHOULD I EXERCISE IN RAMADAN article for many different suggested Ramadan fitness schedules – only 2 of which involve exercise while fasting! It is always a good idea to “trial” your selected workout schedule BEFORE Ramadan to test how your body will respond to fasted and non-fasted workouts, as well.
  1. If you planned on performing a fasted workout but you feel the symptoms of dehydration BEFORE beginning your workout (dry mouth, lethargy, weakness in muscles, headache, dizziness), postpone your workout until after you have broken your fast so you can drink water and replenish your fluids. Remember, always prioritise safety during your workout and never exercise if you feel unwell. 
  1. Give yourself at least a full 24 hours between exercise sessions in Ramadan. Research on athletic performance in hot environments has shown that athletes may only replenish 30% to 70% of their fluid lost during exercise and weight loss due to fluid depletion may persist up to 24 hours after exercise. In Ramadan, either exercise at the same time on a daily basis to ensure a full 24 hours between workouts, or consider exercising at a reduced frequency, such as every other day or 1-3 times per week. This will allow you adequate opportunities to replenish your body’s lost fluids.
  1. Hydrate aggressively during non-fasting hours. Needless to say, if you are planning on exercising in Ramadan, especially while fasting, you MUST take hydration guidelines VERY seriously! Exercise increases your body’s fluid needs (you lose fluids as you sweat and exert yourself). If you have not hydrated properly at Suhoor, you should not exercise! According to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hydration guidelines for adequate fluid intake:
    • MEN: 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) of fluids a day 
    • WOMEN: 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids a day 

 

These targets may be more than you are currently be drinking. However, it is very reasonable to aim for 12-15 cups of water during non-fasting Ramadan hours, if you space our your glasses in non-fasting hours. Aim to drink 3-4 glasses of fluids per hour during non-fasting hours. You can also include tea and coffee (sugar-free, of course!) as part of your daily fluid requirements.  Click HERE to download our free Healthy Eating Ramadan Checklist to learn more about hydration and fuelling yourself right while fasting!

Being aware of the risks of dehydration in Ramadan and taking steps to ensure safety while exercising will allow you to maintain a solid exercise schedule during Ramadan. The most important factor to prevent dehydration is to select a workout schedule during Ramadan that minimises the risks of dehydration. Next, be sure to read WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO EXERCISE IN RAMADAN?

Healthy FOOD, EXERCISE and SLEEP must come together for your HEALTHIEST Ramadan ever! Luckily, we’ve got you covered!

The Ramadan Reset eBook is your complete solution to healthy eating, exercise, sleep, coffee and so much more in Ramadan! With 90 dietitian-created recipes, full fasting fitness schedules for ALL levels, your Ramadan will never be the same! Click HERE to learn more! 

References
  1. Roncal-Jimenez, C., Lanaspa, M. A., Jensen, T., Sanchez-Lozada, L. G., & Johnson, R. J. (2015). Mechanisms by which dehydration may lead to chronic kidney disease. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 66(Suppl. 3), 10-13.
  2. Crostra, P. (2018). Dehydration: Symptoms, causes, and treatments. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153363.php
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