Fasting seems to be all the rage these days. Intermittent fasting more specifically. The benefits are touted as being superior to non-fasting protocols, from boosting growth hormone to preventing aging…
While these claims are a bit silly, one thing that is for sure is that fasting is nothing new.
Fasting has been a worldwide principle since the dawn of time, particularly for religious purposes.
A friend recently reached out to ask how to structure nutrition during Ramadan, with a goal of maintaining or even gaining some solid muscle during this period.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is observed worldwide by Muslims by fasting during the times when the sun is up for 29-30 days.
While this is a tricky time to gain muscle for those looking to observe this period and get jacked, it is still possible.
1) Prioritize Your Eating Windows
With any fasting protocol, you need to plan out your opportunities to eat a little bit more than the average person. Since you are restricted to a specific time, you must be planning in advance to make sure all your bases are covered – especially if your goal is gain muscle, you will need to be in a slight surplus of calories.
If it is for Ramadan, you will need to split your eating windows in two, and base each one on when you are training, to maximize your peri-workout nutrition as well.
If possible, I would recommend training in the morning and eating a solid pre-workout meal 2 hours before training, ideally this would happen upon waking, and training could happen anytime 2-3 hours after (while the sun is up)
- Wake up: 4:30 AM – Eat 50% of daily goal
- Sunrise: 5:48AM
- Train: 7:00AM
If you cannot train during the AM hours, and need to train in the PM, I would try and get in a smaller high easy digestible carb shake on the way to hit the gym, then eat a larger meal after.
- Sunset: 7:58PM
- Drink 30-40g carb + 10g protein
- Eat meal by 9PM
The PM option is tougher, because you are eating later, and potentially limiting sleep, which is key for recovery and muscle growth.
2) Prioritize Calorie Dense Foods (Carefully!)
This doesn’t mean you should live off of ice cream and donuts during your eating window, but if your goal is to gain or at least maintain muscle, you need to be at maintenance or a slight surplus.
Choosing slightly fattier cuts of meat, having handfuls of nuts, or using higher fat versions of any foods might be needed to hit a calorie target.
If you are used to being on the lower end of fat intake, this might throw you for a bit, but if calories are controlled, you may have to drop your carb intake slightly and bump up your fat intake slightly.
I would keep carbs as close to training as possible, whether it be before or after.
Carbs will not only provide fuel for intense training, but they also provide a “switch” to turn off the sympathetic nervous state that is heightened during training and shift our body into a parasympathetic state of recovery.
If you train in the morning, and cannot eat carbs post workout because the sun is up – no worries, prioritize your recovery breathing, chillax a bit, and wind down from your workout.
Remember – total daily intake is what matters most!
3) Get Enough Protein
This should go without saying, but to maintain or build muscle mass you NEED to be getting at least .6-1g/lb of protein. (if calories are sufficient, the .6 will work, not ideal, but it will work) Because your eating windows might be shorter, this can be tough, and lead to some gassy results.
Try to split the feedings up as much as possible, but if you can get 3 feedings in that should be the minimum goal.
Now, if you are a bigger person, getting 250 grams of protein in 3 meals might not be possible. Truth is if you are getting enough calories, and getting at least .6g/lb you should have no issues losing your gains over the 29-30 day period.
So what might this all look like for a split day fast like Ramadan? Let’s use my friend as an example:
Current Intake: 310g C/55g F/170g P – 24-30g/fiber ( 2415 calories )
- 4:30AM – Wakeup – Eat 40-50% of daily intake carbs, 20% fat, 40g pro (130g C, 11g F, 40g Pro)
- Sunrise – FAST
- Sunset – END FAST
- Eat 25-30% carbs, 30-40% of fat, and another 40-50g protein.
- Then cap off the rest in another meal before bed.
Now, this would be ideal…but life isn’t always ideal! If this person wanted to still maintain muscle but wasn’t able to eat all this food what can we do? This is where tweaking the macros could be an option. Now I wouldn’t do this overnight, but a slow transition to lower carb, higher fat would be the way to go…
Reminder – carbs are 4 cal/gram and ft is 9 cal/gram – so for every 2ish grams of carbs we drop, we can add 1 gram-ish of fat. I would keep adjustments around 10-20g/carbs per day per week while balancing out with added fats.
So maybe the macros look like this:
250g C/ 82g F/ 170g P – 24-30g fiber (still 2415 calories)
Then the distributions might be easier, because you are getting more calories, with less volume of food.
Lastly, what if training at night?
I would try and train before the sun goes down, and be ready to feast as soon as you finish training. HOWEVER – don’t do this RIGHT away, because your body is in a super sympathetic state and may not be ready to digest a feast. So cool down, hit a protein and simple carb shake, then feast 1 hour later.
In this situation, I would still try and get 50-60% of calories in before the sun comes up but would shift to a little bit more fat dominant, and save more carbs for after sundown.
I hope this helps some of my swole bro’s out there who are partaking in this fasting period – hats’ off to you guys because I don’t think I would make it!
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Stay healthy my friends,