Many individuals undergo periodic fasting for health, religious or cultural reasons. In Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, sex and tobacco from early in the dawn (imsak) until dusk (maghrib).
This period involves a shift in the pattern of intake from day time to the hours of darkness. According to R.J. Maughan of the School of Sports, Exercise, and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, fasting is characterized by a coordinated set of metabolic changes designed to spare carbohydrates and increase reliance on fat as a substrate for energy supply.
As well as sparing the limited endogenous carbohydrate, and increased rate of gluconeogenesis, glucose production from amino acids, glycerol and ketone bodies, help maintain the supply of carbohydrates. There seems to be little effect on overall daily dietary intake and only small metabolic effects, but there may be implications for both physical and cognitive function.
The limited evidence suggests that effects of Ramadan-style fasting on exercise performance are generally small. It is better not to stop exercise in Ramadan. The best time for Muslims to exercise during Ramadan is just before maghrib. But it is also okay to work out two or three hours after breaking the fast.
The study from Abdul Rashid Aziz from Singapore Sports Institute this year examines the effects of Ramadan fasting on endurance performance. A method using a crossover design, 10 moderately trained, active Muslim men performed 60 minutes runs on a treadmill in the fasted (Ramadan, RAM) and non-fasted (Control, CON) states on two separate counterbalanced occasions.
After familiarization, four subjects performed their CON trial one week before Ramadan, while the other six subjects performed their CON trial one week after Ramadan. The subjects’ last meals were standardized before their exercise trials.
The results: Blood glucose concentration was significantly lower and urine specific gravity was significantly higher at the start of exercise in the RAM condition than in CON.
Physiological responses during the 30-minute run (mean heart rate, blood lactate and ratings of perceived exertion) were, however, not significantly different between the two conditions.
There were also no significant difference in the subjects’ daytime sleepiness or mood profile between the RAM and CON conditions. At the conclusion of this study, Ramadan fasting has a small yet significant negative impact on endurance running performance, although the impact varies across individuals.
The study from A. Michaelsen, et al, from Kliniken Essen Mitte, Germany, stated that it was commonly reported that short-term fasting leads to mood enhancement and emotional harmonization.
Michaelsen investigated psychosocial well-being and the neuroendocrine response, assessed by nightly urinary excretion of cortisol and catecholamines hormones, in 28 inpatients with chronic pain syndromes during and after a one-week modified fast.
Twenty-two of the patients participated in a seven-day fasting with daily intake of 300 kcal/day, six control patients received a vegetarian-based diet. With fasting, significant increases of the urinary concentration of noradrenaline, adrenaline and cortisol were observed, whereas controls showed no significant endocrine changes.
The neuroendocrine response to fasting was pronounced in younger subjects (age <50 years) and in the presence of a BMI (Body Mass Index) >25 kg/m2, moreover the increase in cortisol excretion was significantly higher in subjects with lower baseline cortisol levels.
Mood and well-being increased non-significantly in both groups. Fasting was well tolerated, and regarded as beneficial by most fasting patients. Our results show that short-term fasting leads to neuroendocrine activation and may suggest that the extent of this response is dependent on the individual metabolic and endocrine state at baseline.
“Good diet and modifications to sleep and work timetables may minimize or even eliminate any
effects on performance.”
Good fasting has both spiritual and health benefits. Studies have shown that fasting can induce a healthy condition to our body and reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
Too much cholesterol in the blood causes plaque to build up on the walls of arteries and veins, which could lead to clotting and a stroke. Fasting is also said to boost the immune system and the metabolism, thus promoting healing.
Restricting caloric intake also slows down the production of free radicals in the body, which can help prevent degenerative diseases. A recent study carried out in Indonesia has concluded that fasting can reduce the amount of free radicals in the body by about 90 percent and increase the antioxidant level by around 12 percent. Fasting also can decrease body weight. Nutritionist Ali Khomsan said many Muslims lost 5 percent of their body weight in Ramadan.
To maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, it is necessary to have a diet that is balanced enough. The principles of good nutrition hold true for anyone who is fasting. It is best to avoid too much fat, sugar, salt and caffeine and to always choose fresh non-processed food. It is important to drink at least seven glasses of water a day — three in the morning at sahur and four in the evening.
Fifty percent of food consumed should be at the time when you break your fast, 10 percent after the tarawih prayer and 40 percent at sahur time. It is best to break the fast with foods such as dates or bananas that will quickly release glucose into the bloodstream.
Let the stomach rest for one hour after that before eating rice or anything more substantial. It is a good idea to choose food from each of the major food groups: the grain group, the fruit and vegetable group and the meat and dairy groups. The meat group includes vegetarian options such as nuts and beans.
Finally, it is true that in the first week of fasting we feel tired. This is normal and indicates the body needs time to adapt. Avoid strenuous activity in the fasting month but do not allow yourself to get lazy.
Increases in subjective sensations of fatigue may be the result of loss of sleep or disruption of normal sleep patterns. Good diet and modifications to sleep and work timetables may minimize or even eliminate any effects on performance. So, fasting has been found to be really healthy and does not decrease our performance.