Everything to Know About Working Out While Fasting During Ramadan

If you want to work out while fasting, here's how you can do so safely, according to experts.

Sports woman in hijab doing bicycle crunch workout outdoors
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Ramadan is an Islamic holy month during which Muslims around the world fast every day from the time the sun rises to the time it sets. As you can imagine, hunger and thirst during this time are real. When Ramadan, which is based on the lunar calendar, falls during the summer (think: longer daylight hours), those who observe this practice won't eat or drink anything (even water) until well into the night.

People who choose to fast during the month of Ramadan generally wake up before the sun to consume a pre-fast meal, which is known as suhoor or sehri. The meal eaten after sunset is known as iftar. While the sun is down, there's no limit to how much you can eat or drink.

For many Muslims, finding a way to navigate day-to-day life while fasting means maintaining a healthy workout regimen. But is it safe to keep exercising when there's no food to fuel your body and you're unable to even drink water to stay hydrated through the day? Here, two experts weigh in on the safety of working out while fasting and share the guidelines you should keep in mind if you choose to be active during your fast.

Working Out While Fasting Can Be Safe

Working out while fasting for Ramdam or another reason (say, intermittent fasting) is safe in most cases, according to Aaliya Yaqub, M.D., a board-certified physician and wellness expert who practices internal medicine. In fact, research suggests there may be a surprising benefit to working out while fasting. "Fasting during Ramadan may be associated with an increase in human growth hormone, the hormone produced in the pituitary gland in your brain," says Dr. Yaqub. "[HGH] plays a role in cell repair and metabolism and boosts muscle growth and exercise performance. It can also help you recover from injury and disease more easily."

"Is it possible to be physically active, or even be an elite athlete, and fast? Yes," says Dua Aldasouqi, M.A., R.D.N., a registered dietitian and the founder of A Muslim Dietitian. "Are there things you need to be aware of and you need to be considerate of? Absolutely."

For some people, a conversation with a physician may be in order before they decide to exercise while fasting. This is especially true for those with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, as well as those taking certain medications, such as diuretics and blood pressure meds because these can lead to electrolyte imbalances or cause you to get dehydrated more quickly, explains Dr. Yaqub.

"If you're feeling at all unwell, it's better to consult your doctor before starting a fitness routine, especially if you're looking to do high-intensity workouts," she adds. Workouts at a higher heart rate and intensity require carbohydrates for quick energy. Without them (or with a small amount of them), you're more likely to feel tired, weak, and sore and become dehydrated. The result? This can leave you dizzy and potentially nauseated, which can inhibit your focus and ability to execute exercises, thereby upping your risk for injury. (See more: Should You Be Doing Fasted Cardio?)

In addition to determining whether working out while fasting is an option for you, your practitioner can also help you develop a strategy to stay hydrated and safely exercise on an empty stomach during Ramadan. (It's important to note that working out while fasting should not be used as a weight-loss method.)

How to Manage the Risk of Dehydration

Anyone who fasts will want to take precautions to avoid dehydration, but this is particularly the case for those who tend toward challenging workouts (e.g. HIIT).

"Given that there's a shorter window to consume liquids [during Ramadan], it's really important that people get in as much hydration as they can after they break their fast and in the morning as they're preparing their first meal of the day," says Dr. Yaqub. "The standard recommendation is eight glasses of water per day. If you can get six to eight glasses or the equivalent of that, you're in pretty good shape."

But life happens and some days you just might not be able to down enough H2O before sunrise — maybe you're already running late for work or perhaps you got stuck at the office until late at night. If you're unable to hydrate adequately, forgo intense exercise and take a walk for your daily dose of movement instead, recommends Dr. Yaqub.

In addition to maintaining adequate fluid intake, you should also be prioritizing electrolyte consumption if you're interested in working out while fasting, points out Dr. Yaqub. ICYDK, electrolytes are essential minerals — e.g. sodium, potassium, calcium — that are vital for many bodily functions, including maintaining the balance between fluids inside and outside of your cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In other words, electrolytes make sure that enough H2O stays in and limit how much of it leaves your body, which would otherwise cause dehydration.

"Fruits that are very high in water [e.g. watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries] are going to help make sure you get those electrolytes," says Aldasouqi. Sipping on sports drinks, such as Gatorade, can also help on the electrolyte front, but these beverages are often loaded with additives and sugars. (Too much sugar, for example, can not only cause fluctuations in blood sugar, but can also lead to bloating, discomfort, and even cramping — all of which can negatively impact your ability to safely exercise on an empty stomach.)

"I usually recommend diluting [sports drinks]," notes Aldasouqi. "You can also make your own [electrolyte-boosting drink] with 2 to 3 cups of water, half to a whole lemon juiced, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt."

So how do you know if you're dealing with dehydration? "One of the most common signs [of dehydration] is an increase in your heart rate," says Dr. Yaqub. "Sometimes people will start feeling weak, dizzy, or nauseated, have a difficult time focusing, and notice [that] their productivity goes down." While any of these symptoms are enough to warrant a call to your doctor, if you experience significant pain or faint, you should especially reach out.

Best (and Worst) Exercises for Working Out While Fasting

When it comes to working out while fasting for Ramadan, avoid picking up the intensity at the gym, suggests Dr. Yaqub. "I know that's not always possible if [for example] you're an athlete, but for the average person, it's probably a good idea to stay away from high-intensity workouts while you're fasting."

Instead, opt for moderate physical activity, "which has been shown to be safe for the average healthy individual," adds Aldasoqi. "'Moderate' is basically something that gets your heart pumping, but it's not at a level where you can't hold a conversation while you're being active."

Other good options for exercising on an empty tum are lower-intensity activities, such as leisurely swimming, yoga (with the exception of hot yoga for obvious, dehydrating reasons), as well as Pilates, according to Dr. Yaqub. And if you're someone who doesn't exercise regularly (no judgment!), consider waiting until after the holiday or your fast to start incorporating more physical activity.

When to Work Out While Fasting

"The absolute safest, though probably the least practical, is to do it [during] the non-fasting hours, so in the night," says Aldasouq."For a lot of people, that's not very practical, especially when Ramadan is during the spring/summer [and the sun sets late in the day]."

Another option? Getting a workout in right before breaking the fast. "Yes, you're the most depleted at that point, but it's also closest to when you are going to replete and replenish everything," explains Aldasouq. (

What to Eat Before and After Fasting

If you're set on working out while fasting, eating the right foods — in addition to, of course, drinking plenty of fluids — before sunrise and after sundown can make all the difference.

"Focusing on high-protein foods is a really good idea so that you have energy that extends and lasts a little bit longer," says Dr. Yaqub, who counts nuts, eggs, avocado, fish, and chicken as excellent food choices for those that are fasting. "Make sure you're getting enough protein through the month of Ramadan — even though you're fasting, you still have the same protein requirements," she adds. "You're just trying to fit them in during a shorter window of time."

You should also get your fill of fibrous foods, such as oatmeal, lentils, and fruits and veggies, among other high-fiber eats. "Fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of food, so you get steady energy that lasts," Sarah Romotsky, R.D., previously told Shape. But keeping you full and fueled for hours is just one of the nutrient's many perks. Soluble fiber, in particular, forms a gel-like substance in your gut, slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates and preventing blood sugar spikes. And the more stable your blood sugar, the less likely you are to experience those sugar highs and lows and that rollercoaster of energy that comes with it.

On the flip side, "folks who are consuming high-carb meals during sehri/suhoor are probably at a disadvantage [throughout the day]," says Dr. Yaqub.

As for calorie intake, most people don't need to think too hard about this number, even if they're physically active — unless you are an elite athlete or have a history of disordered eating, according to Aldasouqi. (And if you fit either or both of those categories, it's a good idea to consult a nutritionist to develop the best diet for you and your goals, whether that's workingout while fasting during Ramadan or otherwise.)

And If You Decide to Forgo Fitness While Fasting for Ramadan...

That's fine, according to Aldasouqi, who adds that many people choose to prioritize spirituality over fitness during the month of Ramadan. If you'd like to take a break from the gym, ease back into your fitness routine after Ramadan comes close, says Dr. Yaqub.

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