Bodybuilding during Ramadan: A difficult but rewarding process
An already challenging sport made harder with fasting.
What comes to mind when you think of bodybuilding? For many, it’s the sight of people lifting heavy weights in the gym and the idea of people pushing themselves beyond their physical limits.
While it is not wrong, it is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sport.
There are many other factors that go into the sport, such as diet and recovery which are equally as important as its physical aspect. To stick to a strict diet and ensure sufficient time to rest after each workout requires a great amount of discipline and commitment.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, it is safe to say that bodybuilding is one of the toughest sports in the world, and it goes without saying that all of these are made harder in the month of Ramadan.
For 19-year-old beginner Nabil Rasheed, bodybuilding during Ramadan poses as one of the biggest challenges he has faced.
With the intention to improve his appearance and stay healthy, Nabil started bodybuilding earlier this year in January and crafted a strict diet plan to put himself in a calorie deficit. While it was going well at first, things got much harder when Ramadan started.
“As my diet limits the amount of calories I can consume each day, it’s really challenging to restrict myself from overeating when breaking fast, especially after a full day of fasting. I’ve been trying my best to get better at controlling myself, but it’s tough,” he said.
Aside from his diet, Nabil also faces difficulties in finding the right time to hit the gym, especially with his work commitments and changes in his schedule due to Ramadan.
As Nabil primarily works night shifts from 8pm to 7am, he can only train either in the afternoon or in the evening before his shift. While it was manageable at first, things got much harder with the commencement of Ramadan.
“With work starting at 8pm, working out after breaking fast, which usually occurs around 7:10pm, is already out of the question.
“My other option is to hit the gym in the afternoon before breaking fast. It’s tough as I always feel exhausted not just from work but also from fasting,” Nabil stated.
Looking at Nabil’s case, it is evident that beginners who have only started their bodybuilding journey will face plenty of struggles during their first encounter with Ramadan. However, it is no different even for experienced lifters, such as 19-year-old Danian Aqim.
Danian began his bodybuilding journey one and a half years ago and has since gotten used to the way of life, having made plenty of progress since he started. But even so, he still struggles to cope with the demanding lifestyle during Ramadan.
While training does not necessarily get tougher for him, the diet and recovery aspect of bodybuilding is what makes it challenging for him during the Ramadan period.
“I work from nine in the morning to 6pm each day and usually go to the gym from 11pm onwards after my Tarawih prayers. I find it hard to get sufficient rest as I will usually be home past midnight- plus I have to get up at five in the morning for my pre-dawn meal too,” he said.
The diet aspect of bodybuilding is possibly Danian’s biggest challenge this Ramadan, especially since he aims to bulk up and has to eat up to 3,600 calories each day in order to ensure optimal muscle growth.
To put things into perspective, consuming 3,600 calories each day is the equivalent of eating close to 2.1kg of chicken breast or 27 bowls of rice everyday.
“Before Ramadan, 3,600 calories was hard, but it was not impossible as I could eat anytime I wanted to. Now with Ramadan, I can only eat during my pre-dawn meal and during break fast. So I have to push myself to eat at least two or three times more than I usually do just to hit the calorie count,” Danian explained.
However, while the hurdles that Danian has to overcome this Ramadan period are challenging, he is actually glad that he has to face them as it allows him to improve himself not just in the physical aspect, but also in the religious aspect.
“In a way, bodybuilding and Ramadan are similar as they are both challenging and push you to your limits. Because of that, I’m happy to face these challenges as I know that in the end, it will help me grow stronger not just physically, but also religiously as Ramadan allows me to strengthen my relationship with God,” Danian explained.
Another youth who shares the same sentiment as Danian is Ilyas Abdullah, 19, who started bodybuilding close to four years ago.
“I like to push myself, and I think Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to do so as I can develop both my physical and mental strength which are essential for any bodybuilder,” Ilyas shared.
Despite his extensive experience in bodybuilding, Ilyas is not completely immune to challenges during the Ramadan period. Similar to Nabil, Ilyas faced many difficulties during his first encounter with Ramadan and, just like Danian, still faces challenges today.
One of the major challenges Ilyas faces includes the lack of energy due to hunger and dehydration. Just like any other sport, bodybuilding places great emphasis on consuming enough nutrients and water throughout the day.
As consumption of food and water is restricted from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, it becomes a lot more challenging to perform any physical activity.
“Like everyone else, dehydration and hunger always causes me to feel tired. No matter how mentally strong you are to push through the feeling of lethargy, there is no escaping the fact that your body will struggle to keep up with your training when you lack food and especially water,” Ilyas explained.
However, given Ilyas’s exposure to bodybuilding during Ramadan through the years, he has been able to learn from his experiences and discover ways to better cope with the challenges that come.
“From my experience, the most important thing for lifters to do during Ramadan is to drink lots of water and eat nutritious meals during break fast and pre-dawn meals. This will help to replenish your energy to get you back on your feet and will help you hit your daily macros which are essential if you want to build muscle,” Ilyas advised.
All in all, there is no doubt that bodybuilding during Ramadan is no easy feat as it is both physically and mentally demanding with a multitude of challenges. While the three youths may face different challenges, one thing still remains the same between them- the never give up attitude.
Regardless of Nabil’s busy schedule, Danian’s crazy diet requirements and Ilyas’s lack of energy, none of them have given up, and still continue to pursue their bodybuilding goals.
“There have been times that I’ve wanted to take the easy way out and stop as bodybuilding during Ramadan feels like an impossible task. But what keeps me going is the desire to improve myself, which only comes with hard work and consistency,” shared Nabil.
Ilyas added: “Bodybuilding during Ramadan may be tough, but never use it as an excuse to slack. Push beyond your comfort zone and always strive to be more than average because that’s what bodybuilding is all about.”