Muslim bodybuilder shares his advice for dieting and training during Ramadan
A bodybuilder and elite trainer at Ultimate Performance, Umar Malik is no stranger to the daily grind
An already gruelling schedule is made increasingly complex, however, when going through Ramadan. For those unaware, Ramadan is a Muslim festival whereby followers abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, for a whole month.
Umar has to make adjustments to his training, diet and recovery so those hard-earned results don’t drop. He spoke to JOE, and provided hugely helpful advice for anyone following a similar path.
As you might have imagined, Umar’s in-gym training looks slightly different around this time of year.
“There is no way I can handle as much volume”, he said.
“I basically have to halve the amount of volume I’m doing at the gym, while making time for prayers, eating and the digestion of the food I take in.”
With volume being a key driver in developing muscle mass, this could potentially prove a problem.
Umar stays one step ahead by tweaking his training. This ensures any trade-off is limited.
His Ramadan workout plan looks like this:
- 2 days consecutive training
- 1 day off
- Repeat cycle
- Follow a powerlifting split with reduced volume [each exercise consisting of 4-6 reps, sometimes as low as 3]
- Focus on compound lifts: pull ups, flat bench press, overhead press, barbell squat and deadlift
High-volume training demands much in the way of muscle glycogen – which your body generally obtains from high-carb, high-calorie diets.
Where there is a scarcity of food, it makes sense to follow a more strength-based plan.
“With reduced food, of course the biggest shock is in having a whole day where you’re depleted in energy.
“To go from no food, to consuming 2000 calories in such a short space of time is difficult. Going into one meal, when your digestive system has been inactive, to then asking your body to also go and workout…that is tough.”
Umar’s pre-workout nutrition is specifically-designed for fast-acting energy.
“Pre-workout, I initially began by just having a protein shake with a handful of nuts.
“This alone wasn’t enough to fuel my workouts so I now also have salmon and white rice. This will be eaten prior to the gym around 9pm / 9:15pm”,
The short window where food can be consumed is extremely busy, as prayer time is also catered for.
“After my meal I take 20 minutes out for prayers. Then I walk back to where I work, Ultimate Performance’s London City gym.
“During Ramadan I train at 10pm, whereas outside of this period I would usually work out around my clients at midday.”
Post-workout, Umar has to take more food on-board.
“Immediately after my training, I’ll have some oats with water, with added electrolytes and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). I will probably have to pray again, too.
“I may also have a protein shake on the short walk back to my home. When I get to my place, I’ll have a meal that is similar to the salmon and rice that I had pre-workout, with added vegetables.”
Despite taking on such a large amount of food around training, this only amounts to around 2000 calories per day.
Naturally, the reduced calorie intake has affected Umar’s body composition – such as his levels of muscle mass and fat.
This has still brought about its benefits, though.
“My strength has actually increased on most of the main lifts in the gym.
“I’ve been tracking my stats. I’m down by 4kg since the start of Ramadan, so I have probably lost some muscle mass - but I was also 13% body fat too.
“Since then, my fat mass has definitely come down.”
Recovery around Ramadan has also informed Umar’s training and diet.
“Without as much food, I’m finding I’m more sore after training as my body is lacking in levels of fuel.
“Sleep can also be uncomfortable, but I focus on eating foods that are not too heavy so I can sleep as best as I can.”
The reaction among the Muslim community has been overwhelmingly positive, Umar states.
“People are generally really interested in what I do.
“It’s interesting, people are always asking questions about my training, what food I’m eating, if I can stick to my diet and so on. I’ve had nothing but support.
“Just two days prior to the start of Ramadan, a guy came to Ultimate Performance wondering how he’d maintain his diet and training. I assured him I’d be going through the process, and now I’m helping him.”
A knock-on effect of Umar’s dedication is that many of his family members have also taken to training.
“A lot of my family train”, he says.
“Even some of the older women have started working out and becoming more active.”
To make the most out of your recovery, Umar has offered some specific tips.
“After I eat, I go for a walk as this helps digestion. This is vital when you’ve got such a short window to work from.
“If you can, sleeping during the day can also help.
“For stress relief and mindfulness, I have been meditating quite a lot. An app called Headspace has helped. Breathing exercises can really help calm you down for relaxation.”