Ramadan can be a challenging time for those trying to achieve weight loss and fat loss goals. The 30-day fasting period during the Holy Month of Ramadan means refraining from consuming food and drink in the long hours from dawn until sunset. This can be a huge dietary upheaval and metabolic mayhem in contrast to the usual fitness regimes.
But with proper planning and the right guidance for diet, nutrition and exercise, it is still possible to safely and effectively progress towards your weight loss and goals while fasting for Ramadan. We have created this guide to weight loss in Ramadan and added some sample meals to help you make progress and finish Ramadan fitter, healthier and leaner than when you began.
If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to monitor your daily calorie intake. This is even more important during Ramadan when it's very easy to over-eat on calorie-dense foods during Iftar, especially when you've gone all day with no food or water. The bottom line for many people struggling to lose weight is they're often simply consuming too many calories to lose weight or shed body fat (even if those excess calories are coming from healthy sources).
Ever heard the expression 'you can't out-train a bad diet'? Well, it's true. To hit your weight loss goal, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Not just day to day, but over the week. You could be in a calorie deficit of 300 calories a day from Monday to Friday which totals 1500 calories down. But then if you cut loose on the weekend and eat two tubs of ice cream totaling 3,000 calories then that calorie deficit you've worked so hard on maintaining through the week will turn into a calorie surplus - and that means weight gain.
That's where tracking your food, and therefore your calorie intake becomes the key. Using an app like MyFitnessPal is really useful for helping monitor your diet and ensuring your calorie intake is where it should be to keep losing body fat.
Keep your food intake the same
Just because it's Ramadan doesn't mean you should suddenly change your diet drastically. In fact, if your goal is to lose weight and shed fat then you should actually try your best to eat the same quality, quantity and ratio of food that you would regularly on your weight loss diet. It might be the case that you won't be able to fit the same amount of meals into your eating window between Iftar and Suhur than you would on a normal day outside Ramadan, but try and keep the amount and quality of food you consume in those meals the same.
What's the key to any successful weight loss or body transformation diet? Planning and organization.
Ensuring that you have all your meals planned and prepared in advance means you're far more likely to stick to your diet plan which ultimately adds up to better weight loss and fat loss success long term. If you leave your meals to chance and just grab something when you're hungry, you're more likely to make bad food choices when Iftar comes around.
After a full day of fasting your hunger hormones will be high meaning that it's easier to just gorge on the kinds of foods that taste great but are terrible for your body composition goals. So having healthy meals ready and waiting for when you break fast that meet your calorie needs and macronutrients goals is key to weight loss success.
Prep your meals
Food prep is the easiest and most effective way to stay on track with your diet. Once you're on a fat loss plan and you know your calorie totals and macronutrient goals, get batch cooking some go-to healthy meals and portion them out in Tupperware boxes ready for when you need them. Spending an hour or so a week planning your food and meals for the coming seven days over Ramadan will save you loads of cooking time in the long run. Plus buying and cooking in bulk is much more cost effective than grabbing a meal from a shop or getting food in a restaurant or takeaway. Prepping at home also means you know exactly what you're getting in your food calories- and macronutrients-wise.
Who knows how many hidden calories are in the so-called 'healthy' foods you will get at your local restaurant? Batch cooking your protein sources is very simple - it only takes half an hour at most to cook off a batch of chicken fillets or steaks. It's equally simple to throw some basic ingredients like meat, vegetables and stock in a slow cooker and leave them to simmer all day ready for Iftar. When it comes time to break fast, you will have a delicious and nutritious meal ready and waiting.
There will be times during Ramadan when you will be enjoying social occasions and eating out at restaurants with family and friends. It can be difficult to stay on track with your diet when you're out for a meal unless you plan ahead. There are so many foods on the menu that can derail your weight loss and fat loss goals (which we discuss in the next section).
But now, increasingly, restaurants are offering healthier options for the more body-conscious diner.
It's always advisable to check the menu before you arrive to see which meal will best fit your meal plan or dietary needs. If your regular weight loss meals often contain a piece of protein like chicken or fish and lots of green vegetables then try and order something similar from the menu.
We doubt that your weight loss diet would contain things like pizza, burgers and fries, so avoid choices like that if you want to keep progressing towards your goals. It's always advisable to say no to 'extras' when you order. Things like coleslaw, onion rings, fries, sauces and added cheese are added extras that will seriously bump up the calorie count of the meals.
Keep it simple and go for something like steak and vegetables - you'll be able to track the amount of calories on your food tracker app. Restaurants are always amendable to making substitutes for foods, so don't be afraid to ask.
Good swaps are potatoes for sweet potatoes, fries for green vegetables and salads without dressings. Always base your meal around a good source of protein.
Foods to avoid at Iftar
When you have been fasting for so many hours, you are understandably going to be very hungry.
When Iftar comes around it can be very easy to eat everything you can lay your hands on and binge on foods that are calorie dense and won't help you achieve your weight loss goals. There are so many calorie-laden, suboptimal foods on offer at Iftar and when you're blood sugar is low, and your appetite is raging it can be hard to resist. That's why food prep and having optimal meals on you at key meal times during Ramadan is critical to not ruin your progress. If you want to stay on track and ensure that you maintain optimal health and eat to benefit your body and your performance in the gym, there are many foods you need to avoid.
Swerve typically low-nutrient-dense meals, junk food and highly-processed products - basically anything that is 'beige' like cakes, pastries, cereals, biscuits and crackers, as well as fast foods, dairy and highly processed meats.
The problem with a lot of these foods are they are low in nutrients and high in calories, not to mention full of trans fats and toxins - a disaster if you're trying to lose weight.
During Ramadan is it critical that you rehydrate as fully as possible when you break your fast, particularly if you live in hot climates, have a physical job or do high-intensity exercise. Water is a key to the optimal functioning of your body and your brain. Dehydration is responsible for the downregulation of almost every cellular process in the body. Not getting adequate water can also affect muscle protein synthesis and even 3% dehydration can dent your strength and power output in the gym.
If fat loss is your goal, then hydration is a must. Without enough water, the liver will metabolise less fat because it has to take over some of the functions of the kidneys when you are dehydrated. It is very easy to become dehydrated during Ramadan as long days of fasting mount up. Try and aim for a steady intake of 2-3litres between Iftar and Suhur. Try to avoid sugary drinks or foods high in salt which will just make you more thirsty.
The relationship between sleep and weight loss is one that is well documented by science. Sleep is vital for ensuring optimum health, recovery, performance and ultimately helps you realise your fat loss goals. But when you are fasting during the holy month, sleep becomes even more important to counter the stress it puts on your body. Getting enough quality sleep is important for healthy hormone balance. Firstly it's when your body produces the most testosterone and growth hormone (important for both men and women). But also it helps reduce stress hormone cortisol when you're deprived of sleep,it is increased to keep your body running but actually results in lower 'real' energy, mental fog, fatigue and hunger cravings.
We always recommend that you try and achieve between 7-8 hours of good quality sleep. However, during Ramadan this is difficult to achieve in one go with people wanting to make the most of the social occasions and periods of eating. So splitting this into two phases can also work.