Fasting is not just a dietary tactic used by fitness enthusiasts that want to manage their energy intake, but it’s actually a practice that dates back many years and is part of many cultures and religions. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset for the entire month. This presents a great chance to answer the question of: “How does fasted training compare to fed training for strength and hypertrophy gains?”
What did they test? The researchers examined whether training in a fed or fasted state resulted in greater hypertrophy or strength outcomes.
What did they find? Both the fed and the fasted groups made significant hypertrophy and strength gains, although the fed group experienced more significant strength gains.
What does it mean for you? Unless you absolutely love training fasted, training after you break your fast may allow you to gain greater strength but may not make a difference for muscle hypertrophy.
What’s the Problem?
Fasting has been a hot topic for a minute. We've heard it all, from claims that intermittent fasting can be much better than a good ol’ calorie deficit for weight loss and health benefits to fasted training being superior to fed training for fat loss. However, and unfortunately for all of us, fasting or fasted training does not seem to be magical tools that accelerate fat loss more than a traditional calorie deficit, even in obese individuals 1 2.
However, the practice of fasting existed way before it became part of the fitness world.
Fasting has a rich history spanning thousands of years and has been embraced by diverse cultures and religions worldwide, serving both spiritual and health purposes. Ramadan fasting is a very common example of fasting being practiced for religious purposes. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset, refraining from eating or drinking without any exceptions (eg: water or even chewing gym). This spiritual act is meant to foster self-discipline, reflection, and a stronger religious devotion. In the evening, families gather together to break their fast, which also serves as an opportunity to practice gratitude and come closer as a family.
The duration of fasting in Ramadan varies based on where you are and the time of year. Ramadan follows the Islamic lunar calendar, about 10 to 12 days shorter than the Gregorian solar calendar, meaning fasting hours change yearly and in different regions.
On average, daily fasting during Ramadan can range from 10 to 20 hours, with some places experiencing longer days during specific times of the year (e.g., counties closer to the poles like Canada). 10 to 20 hours of fasting is along the lines of what many intermittent fasting enthusiasts do as intermittent fasting protocols range from 16 to 24 hours of fasting (often done as alternate day fasting) but with a few key differences. People who do intermittent fasting need to only abstain from consuming foods that have calories but can still drink as much water and zero-calorie beverages as they please, including coffee, energy drinks, zero-calorie electrolyte drinks etc. They also get to set their own eating windows, which can be adapted to their lifestyles whenever necessary. Contrastingly, the month of Ramadan can be pretty challenging for Muslim athletes and trainees, especially those that cannot work out after they break their fast, often resulting in them having to perform workouts in a completely fasted state, without any food or water. For athletes and serious trainees, training in a completely fasted state can have serious implications for their performance in the gym and on their field. However, research looking at the effects of Ramadan fasting on athletic performance highlights that, similarly to intermittent fasting, as long as one’s energy intake, sleep, and body composition remain similar to their pre-fasting state, substantial decreases in performance are unlikely 3.
Aside from the cultural, religious and spiritual impact that one can explore when looking at Ramadan fasting, it also presents a unique opportunity for us muscle geeks to further explore the effects of fasted training on strength and hypertrophy. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do! This study looked at the timing of resistance training during Ramadan fasting and how it affected strength and hypertrophy.