Zainab and Maymah

Exercise during Ramadan: 2 fitness pros on how and why they train while fasting

Posted by for Strength

Muslim women are nearly halfway through the month of Ramadan. Here, two women share their tips for maintaining their energy levels throughout the days and the month, and why moving is important to their celebrations and routines.  

Zainab Alema is a professional rugby player for Richmond Women and a guest on the podcast Fast Enough: Ramadan Running. She has been playing club rugby for 12 years and now has her sights set on playing for England (she even has drawings of herself in England kit on her wall as a reminder of her goals). 

Zainab Alema
Zainab Alema

“I’ve been lucky in a sense that over the last few years, Ramadan has been in the summer months so I haven’t had to actually play any rugby matches. Instead, the focus has been on keeping up my training in the best way possible.

“One of the most important ways to support the workouts I do is by eating filling, nutritious foods before the sun comes up. At 4am, I usually have oats because a bowl of porridge lasts me for a long time. Then, I plan my workouts for the evening so I can properly refuel straight after. My club trains at 7pm, so I’ll usually do heavy weight workouts or high-intensity training for 45 minutes before I break my fast again. 

“During the day, I like to keep my activity light. Recovery is a massive part of training and is even more crucial during Ramadan, so I tend to add naps in when I can (but I have three kids, so sleep is rare for me anyway). I think it’s important to be mindful of the fact that during this month your energy levels are on the lower side so there’s no point in overworking yourself during this month. The month is also meant to be to a time of reflection and I think the slower pace of my days isn’t just about supporting my workouts but also allowing me powerful time to focus on my creator. 

“No one talks about the praying aspect of being a Muslim woman in sport. It is a huge part of our faith and we pray five times a day. My club has been amazing at providing me with a small, quiet space in which I can pray and it means that I don’t have to compromise between my training and my faith.

“As someone who never saw many people in rugby who looked like me, I initially really struggled to ask for these things. It’s hard in a team sport because if things aren’t going right for an individual then it becomes a collective issue and I don’t want to let anyone down. Having open and honest conversations has meant that everyone understands the times I need to sit out, why I’m not having water during the break or when I need to take 10-minutes to pray. It’s helped them be more supportive of me – my club is amazing. 

“Not many people know what they can do to accommodate Muslim people within sporting environments, and I think that’s why Muslim women are some of the least active people in society. I want to change that perception and prove that we belong in sports, even during Ramadan.”

Maymah Makda is a fitness influencer and ambassador for Bulk. She first discovered fitness around three years ago, and now shares her journey with nearly 50,000 followers while working full time for the NHS. 

Maymah Makda
Maymah Makda

“In 2019 I was feeling bored, didn’t have any hobbies and my self-confidence wasn’t the best, so I started exercising and I found out that I loved lifting weights. During the first year of my fitness journey, I practised Ramadan and was happy that I managed to keep up my workouts while fasting. For the following few years we were in lockdown, but I managed to keep up the lifting with an 8kg kettlebell and bodyweight exercises during the month.

“This year, I’m back to the gym but I’ve been cutting down my workouts in terms of rep ranges and the number of exercises I’m doing. I only train twice a week due to work anyway, so I don’t think I need to take a break but I limit my workouts to an hour and a half and I make sure I keep within my safe limits. 

’Taking longer rest periods this year has been such a game-changer to recuperate energy in between sets. I’ll also never try to go for PBs when I’m fasting but instead focus on what I can do. Simply accepting I won’t be able to do as much and I may not get the same results helps take the pressure off (and cardio is absolutely off the books too). 

“I make sure to plan my meals wisely and eat mindfully. That means starting with a carb-heavy meal at sunset and keeping up my protein intake to maintain muscle mass during times of fasting. As long as I hit those simple habits, I won’t say no to dessert.

“A lot of my audience is Muslim and look to me for training advice during Ramadan. I know a lot of people worry about training during this month, particularly if they’ve never done it before, so I use my platform to give tips that have helped me. I think it’s also important to spread wider awareness to everyone within the fitness community. Anyone who wants to support me can also give me a piggyback to my car.”

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Images: Sports Direct/Bulk

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).