Whatever be your favourite sport, you will often have to deal with training or competing under tough external and internal conditions. How might you think and plan to get the most favoured set of outcomes while minimising any associated risk? This is what I cover today, combining:
In order to help you jump to the section of interest here is a hyperlinked content list, but I recommend that, at first, you read what I have to say from start to finish. Having done that, use this list to re-read the sections that are of special interest to you.
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Background – Relevance, Risk & Return
Where does PuruTheGuru fit in?
Relevance for All Faiths
Risk and Return
Sources of Risk and Risk Reversal
Understanding & Managing Risk
Phase Shift and Relative Sizes of Risk
Why is Hydration the Biggest Risk?
When should you Run?
Running After the Fast
Running During the Fast
Commencement at the Start
Overnight Protocols and Prioritization
Weight Training and Other Strength Building Workouts
Details & Big Picture
Measurement to Take
Ramadhaan Running Pattern in Future Years
Comparing with Others
Where does PuruTheGuru fit in? [top]
Please read: Why does the son of a Hindu Brahmin fast during the Muslim month of Ramadhaan?
Read it? OK, then let’s move ahead…
Relevance for All Faiths [top]
This article is relevant for Muslims who have an active life throughout the year and have wondered about how to not fall back drastically in their performance of those activities as a result of the month of dry fasting. Dry fasting is when you consume neither food nor drink; Muslims who fast during the 30 days of the month of Ramadhaan are meant to observe a dry fast, along with other abstentions (e.g. sex, rudeness, idle chatter), from sunrise to sunset.
And if you follow no specific practices of any religious faith, then it could be relevant:
– if you are planning to run in deserts or hot weather
– or, if you are simply looking for a high ROTI, like I always do, by experiencing the benefit from dehydration and hyperthermic sources of stress
In a country like India, with an exploding running culture, there is often a tendency to take a break from running during the hotter months of April and May. For many there is a resumption of running outdoors once the monsoon rains arrives, and for many there is a longer break until September or October once the monsoon has ended. This article will also be helpful for you if you would like to avoid the yo-yo between running and not-running outdoors when you live in a tropical or equatorial country!
Risk and Return [top]
When building the models for investment strategies I ran as a quantitative hedge fund manager, the primary budget constraint was that of risk. The safe risk limits were fixed and around which I sought to maximise returns. There is an exact parallel here.
Your safety is always important. And, when running in extreme conditions it should be your foremost and biggest concern. You will be exposing yourself to unusual risk, and so your task is to think about how to manage that risk exposure, so as to get the return you expect without blowing up! And then it is important to have a plan. And then executing that plan as perfectly as possible.
Your target return might be to prevent detraining during the days of extra stress (e.g. for Muslims during 30 days of Ramadhaan) or simply to improve your performance through exposing yourself to risk that is not obligatory for you (e.g. if you are not religious). [see: Hormesis – Your Best Friend]
Religious philosophy [top]
From a theological perspective, should you keep training during a month of religious fasting? As long as you are satisfying all your other obligations, then, of course, you should. Humans are not designed to be sedentary. Please search for balance between all your duties, including prayer!
Sources of Risk and Risk Reversal [top]
Normally, through the year, when executing a specific training session, the stress factor is the physical activity. The food and drink are complementary to it. Similarly, your focus on rest is to help recover from the previous training session.
During Ramadhaan, there is a near reversal in stress and support. Food, drink, and your sleep patterns are potential sources of risk because of their timings and duration for which the training session needs to be adjusted.
[Background reading: (a) The Wellness Tree; (b) Hormesis – Your Best Friend; (c) I don’t care about your Ultra! How big is your ROTI?]
Risk Minimization [top]
Let us get one fact straight, right up front. Not exercising is not minimizing risk because being sedentary is a significant independent risk factor. Detraining (i.e. loss of physical ability) happens relatively quickly in humans who take a break of more than a few days from physical activity. As a result, there will definitely be a noticeable detraining effect during Ramadhaan, which is an entire month, if you stay away from training. At the very least, you can try to prevent too much of a drop in your state of conditioning because of it. And, if you are smart about it, you might actually end up being better off in spite of it.
So, you need to be sensible and follow the principle of conservative progression [which I address below].
Note that if you are a Type-2 diabetic and, rather than a non-pharma cure based on lifestyle, if you are on hypoglycemic medications to control the symptoms, please think about the risks of fasting while on such chemicals – please act responsibly at all times!
If you are on other medication, for any specific illnesses, please make yourself scientifically aware of how it is affected by fasting – please act responsibly at all times!
Phase Shift and Relative Sizes of Risk [top]
When switching to your month of fasting from the rest of the year, you have a phase shift within the 24-hour clock. From ingesting nutrients during daylight hours, and sleeping during the night, you are ingesting nutrients between sunset and sunrise and attempting to sleep at night as soundly as possible. As a result, for otherwise healthy individuals, the following is the situation, in increasing order of risk.
i) Food – If you have read my previous articles on the topic of Time of Optimized Feeding, or if you have heard from the media about the recently popular trend of fasting, you will know that the absence of food is not the biggest risk factor during your fasting window. Although the phase shift to eating at night can play havoc with your circadian rhythm and the negatives associated with lower insulin sensitivity at night, the net effect of the fasting ought to be good for you.
ii) Sleep – Depending on how you execute your other religious and non-religious tasks, your sleep will be disturbed during this month. This will happen because of eating and drinking at night which can worsen sleep quality at any time of the year. This will happen [a] from discomfort when going to bed, as a result of the upper part of the digestive system being not quite empty before you try to sleep, and [b] during the month of Ramadhaan, broken sleep as a result of frequent emptying of your bladder and concurrent rehydration through the night.
iii) Hydration – this is the biggest risk factor you face – specifically, dehydration. You can benefit significantly from going without food for many days, while hydrating yourself. On the other hand, a dry fast, i.e. fasting with the additional constraint of zero liquid intake, is beneficial only up to many hours (not days) of fasting. For most individuals, it will be detrimental beyond 24 hours. Reliable research on humans dry fasting beyond 24 hours is non-existent. Fortunately, this year, 2018, the longest period of fasting during Ramadhaan is likely to be 20 hours for only the northern most countries on the planet. For the bulk of the world’s Muslim population it is more likely to be in the range of 15-17 hours. If your physical activity leads to too much fluid loss, you will put yourself at excess harmful risk, rather than a small amount of beneficial hormetic stress.
Why is Hydration the Biggest Risk? [top]
The urgency of food is not the critical physiological variable because your body has sufficient fuel stores, especially fat. And it is possible to catch up with sleep if needed during the fasting period, even with a power nap during the lunch period at one’s place of work. Hydration, however, is not possible during the fasting period – without breaking the fast, of course!
When should you Run? [top]
So, when should you run then? Broadly, you have 2 options. To run after you break your fast. Or to run during your fast.
Running After the Fast [top]
This is the easy option. If you hydrate well when you break your fast, you can wait for as much time as is needed to feel ready to go for your workout. I used to train during this window until a few years ago and typically headed out 1-3 hours after sunset.
Depending on the type of training session you are about to do, and your approach to fuels in the macronutrients relative to your training cycle (e.g. carb loaded run, glycogen depleted run) you will have to spec out your fast-breaking nutrients to consume with your hydration drinks. This includes ensuring that you have sufficient minerals in your diet [calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium].
There is a trade-off between replenishing water and macronutrients, and the feeling of discomfort if you need to run before it gets too late in the night. The situation can become suboptimal because, rather than the running being the only source of physical stress, gastric discomfort is too! My suggestion is that, if you choose to run after you break your fast, that you control your greed when breaking your fast. In addition, consume those food groups that are quick to get through your stomach (into your small intestine). (Typically, a heavy protein or heavy fat meal would take longer to digest than a meal with primarily fruits and salads.)
Running During the Fast [top]
This is my favourite mode for the last few years. It is the one that needs careful attention to detail because the downside payoff can be large and negative if you are foolish. Don’t be foolish! If done sensibly, it can work in your favour, with a very large ROTI. Focus on a large ROTI!
It will be optimal to do your runs such that you complete your training session just before it is time to break your fast. It does mean, of course, that you will be more dehydrated when you start your run, and so will run shorter distances and slower for those distances. However, it also means that if you are sensible you will not reach a point where you have to break your fast for safety reasons earlier than prescribed for religious reasons.
I like the analogy of knowingly and purposefully sailing into a storm. In that scenario, it is wiser to be close to a safe sea port, than to be far from one! Unlike a ship that can always turn around, you cannot go backwards in time, so your safe sea port is sunset!
This brings us neatly to the training principle of progressive overload applied to this type of training – training with unfamiliar physical stress.
Progressive Overload [top]
The general principle of progressive overload is to be applied here just like you would apply it to any other aspect or type of training at any other time of the year. All you need to do is to apply it in a manner that is relevant to this situation.
Preparation before – in the weeks running up to Ramadhaan, do whatever you can to get used to components of the Ramadhaan Running. Try to run at hotter times of the day. Try to run with slightly higher rates of dehydration. Try to run at the time of day you will run during Ramadhaan. With each of these components of stress, start off at a low level and increase them only very gradually. Remind yourself of Hormesis, your Best Friend. And, remember, safety first!
Commencement at the start of the month of fasting – will mean you will have only limited room for manoeuvre in a multi-dimensional space with only limited past information about yourself. From running in a state of normal hydration, sleep and temperatures you are used to, you will be entering a training space with quite a few changes involving stress. So, you will have to be extra cautious. Hopefully you will be nervous enough about it to be prudent, but not so nervous that it adds on extra psychological stress. Remember, safety first!
Commencement after some days of the fasting month have passed – will mean that you will have got accustomed to the new regime minus the running. Depending on when you start running relative to the start of the fasting month, you will have to interpolate between the two paragraphs above.
Overnight Protocols and Prioritization [top]
Remember, the principal behind a Ramadhaan religious fast is not to ‘swap day for night’. It is about abstention. It is not about a complete phase shift. If you are someone who sleeps during the day, and wakes up to eat, drink and make merry through the night, I am not going to give you any specific advice today. Your life itself will teach you the lesson I am skipping!
[My gratitude to the heroes of our society, (nurses, train drivers etc), who choose to work through the night so we can live our lives feeling safe and secure.]
Even if you cannot eat enough during one specific night, but drink enough water, you will be fine the next day. Ensuring that your food is doing positive things for your health is important. Many people experience weight gain by the end of 30 days of fasting. Their feasting more than reversed any gains from the daylight fasting hours. I sincerely hope that you are not one of those people. The twins ‘fasting’ and ‘feeding’ are meant to do wonders for your body – not make you wonder what happened to your body!
Sleep is important, often more important than food, drink and exercise.
Fortunately, not having eaten much overnight will not make you drowsy.
Unfortunately, on the other hand, dehydration makes the drowsiness worse.
So, please use the night for rehydrating rather than loading up on more fuel than you need. It might be possible for you to sleep for a brief period during the day. However, you will not be able to hydrate yourself during the day, so use the night to prioritize hydration over sleep over food. My recommendation is to hydrate yourself well enough overnight so that you do not feel drowsy during the day because of dehydration. Unless you have sleepiness because of insufficient sleep at night, I urge you to not sleep during the day. Using the night to hydrate well so as to avoid sleepiness during the day, will increase the time you spend on your real-world duties, including prayer. As you probably already know, a power nap, halfway through the day, is good at any time of the year.
Of course, if it is a religious fast, you must prioritize in the following order: prayers, hydration, sleep, food.
Liquid Fuel – it can be tempting to combine your food with your drink and consume a lot of smoothies or, worse, juices. Carton or bottled juices are a must-avoid at all times. Fresh juices lack the fibre of smoothies, but even smoothies, which may contain the fibre, typically do not get to spend sufficient time inside your mouth with your saliva, an important stage of digestion. While juices and smoothies may appear time efficient, they are not always nutritionally so! Find the right balance!
Weight Training and Other Strength Building Workouts [top]
If you do your strength training in an air-conditioned environment, and do not normally perspire much during those sessions, then you can definitely do it during the fasting hours. You will also notice that you perspire even less during this month’s sessions, compared to the rest of the year, for the same level of activity intensity and volume. Because the dehydration rate is much lower than with running, you need not do these sessions close to the daily fast-breaking times. For instance, if you have access to a gym near your place of work or study, you could use it when everyone else (not observing Ramadhaan fasting) is eating their lunch. The gym is also more likely to be emptier then!
Measurements to Take [top]
If you do not weigh yourself daily already, you should start, at the very least a week before you start the month of fasting. Then weigh yourself at least once a day just before you break your fast. It will give you your lowest (most dehydrated) weight of the day. Of course, when I say “weigh yourself”, I do mean “weigh yourself and make a note of it and keep those records”.
You could also weigh yourself at other fixed times to understand your body better e.g. before dawn, before sleeping at night. Besides the date and weight, make a note of when you weighed yourself (e.g. “at the start of the fast”)
On the days when you run before you break your fast, you could also weigh yourself before and after the run to estimate how much fluid you have lost during the run. This is pretty standard stuff that I hope you do every so often at other times of the year anyway to check your rate of fluid loss through sweating during runs. And, specifically, although it is more cumbersome, you may want to keep a track of how much fluid you are consuming between sunset and sunrise.
If there are other biomarkers (e.g. from your blood) that you are interested in for some reason, do a baseline (e.g. blood) test before the month begins, and then maybe 5-7 days after the month ends. You will be spending on blood tests but saving on food bills this month!
In terms of what you measure of your runs themselves, you may find, like I often do, that you feel spiritually elevated (now how does one measure or explain that easily without a complicated fMRI setup?) so that you are able to perform surprisingly significantly better than you thought you would in a state of dehydration, almost no stored glycogen, and an accumulated sleep deficit.
Ramadhaan Running Pattern in Future Years [top]
Every year the month of Ramadhaan arrives about 10 or 11 days earlier in the Gregorian calendar. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the month of Ramadhaan included 21st June, the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, 2018, the month of fasting will end about a week before that date and will include it again only in 2049. For countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh that experience their hottest months from March-June, the next 8-9 years are going to be tougher Ramadhaans from a “fasting with hot weather conditions” perspective. As we go further north of the tropics to, say, Europe, the fasting has already become easier compared with the years 2010-2015 when Muslims in Europe were fasting in the peak of their summer, July-August.
As with any form of stress, it is up to you to decide how you are going to handle it. Whether death, divorce or demonetization, life gives you an opportunity to grow, or to shy away from shocks. Dry fasting is not easy, but you can make it work for you, for personal growth, no matter how religious or irreligious you feel. So whether you are religious, an atheist, agnostic or simply spiritual, you can benefit from this combination of dry fasting and endurance running.
My Experience [top]
I have been running without mid-run hydration, throughout the year, for many years, outside the month of Ramadhaan and during it. [Why Ramadhaan? Read this, if you hadn’t earlier.] It has always been with prudent progression. I did not transition in one stroke from being someone sedentary who spent most of their time relaxing with food and drink in comfortable environments to suddenly running long distances in extreme heat with no hydration or food for 15 hours. And about stress factors and choices, I specifically try to be in hot India rather than cool Europe during Ramadhaan so as to not experience a month ‘that was easy’. Which brings me neatly to the most important point for self-improvement (an ultimate goal of all of my conversations with you).
Comparing with Others [top]
As with anything that you do, it is best to not compare yourself with others. In this month especially, besides any pointless unhappiness or false pride, it will put your health at risk if you do not benchmark your performance relative to yourself. If you feel it would be safer to run with others who may or may not be fasting, do that, of course. Just don’t compare yourself with them.
“Spiritual growth is always at an individual level. Use direct inward focus on your physical health to indirectly improve the state of your spiritual health.” (Puru 2018)
So… Fast! Run! Fast Run! Run Fast!
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.