Can one exercise while fasting?

Rather than indulge in high intensity workouts, go for something that requires less energy such as walking  or jogging.  PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Exercising during a fasting state increases lipolysis in adipose tissue while also stimulating peripheral fat oxidation, resulting in increased fat utilization and weight loss.

Fasting helps to detox the body. All that matters is that it is done in a healthy manner; nothing in the extremes. Innocent Kwame, a nutritionist, says fasting and exercise can co-exist as long as one is healthy. 

“If one does not have a chronic illness or is recovering from a period of ailment, they can fast and exercise at the same time,” he says.

However, the line is drawn for persons with some ailments. For instance, someone with heart disease, particularly coronary artery disease, cannot fast and workout. 

“Fasting means not eating some meals, which could leave the body feeling deprived of strength as it is low on glucose. In that state, the body tends to feel tired easily. Therefore, working out, more so high intensity workouts seem very strenuous. This will make the person more prone to cardiac arrests and heart attacks,” Kwame says.

Additionally, someone with high blood pressure or hypertension cannot fast and workout because the fasting drains the body of glucose and exercising worsens the effects. 

“Ordinarily, the blood pressure increases to allow for increase in oxygen flow. However, in this case, the body struggles because the body does not have enough energy to allow that to happen. This could lead to low blood pressure and its effects such as cutting off oxygen and nutrient supply to the body’s vital organs,” Kwame says.

People with diabetes should also not fast and exercise at the same time since they are at danger of their sugar levels dropping should they take long without eating food. 

“Fasting depraves the body of food, which leads to hypoglycaemia. Some of the signs include nausea, headaches, sweating even when it is cold, and shaking. When fasting is coupled with exercise, the symptoms may be worsened,” he says.

When fasting, one risks becoming dehydrated, more so if they engage in high intensity workouts. Linda Ngobi, a fitness trainer, says unless one is engaged in 24 hour fasting, the rest, such as intermittent fasting allows for some time to break the fast. 

“Once the fast is broken, one should ensure they drink plenty of fluids, which will help to hydrate the body. Averagely, the recommended intake is eight glasses a day but this varies with several factors such as one’s body size and the level of activity they indulge in,” she says.

However, sometimes, one may fail to take in as much water or fluids as possible for one reason or another. In such instances, Ngobi advises one to switch their exercise regimen to avoid straining the body. 
“Rather than indulge in high intensity workouts, go for something that requires less energy such as walking  or jogging,” she says.

To indulge in exercises while fasting also calls for one to improve on their micro-nutrient intake. According toKwame, minerals such as potassium, sodium and calcium help the body carry out several functions such as maintaining a balance between fluids in the cells. 

“These minerals ensure that the rate at which cells expend water is limited. This ensures that more water remains in the body, which lowers dehydration. These can be taken as supplements after diagnosis by a medical personnel,” he says. 

Apart from taking enough fluids, Kwame urges people to eat lots of fruits such as watermelon to ensure hydration as well as increase the presence of the minerals. He adds that this is much better than taking beverages which are often filled with processed sugars, which only enhances dehydration. 

“Too much sugar in the body also causes bloating and cramping, which only worsen the effects of exercising while fasting,” he says.

Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, general weakness and nausea. Therefore, if one experiences these, they should stop exercising to allow the body normalise. 

“Otherwise, worse scenarios such as fainting may occur. Waiting for the body to recoup is much better than working towards body fitness while damaging some body organs,” Ngobi says.

Exercises to avoid while fasting
While working out is important, unless you are an athlete, Ngobi says it is advisable to steer clear of high intensity workouts when fasting. 

“While an athlete is mandated to keep up with a certain regimen, the average person can opt for moderate exercises during this period. In that regard, let the sole purpose of exercising boil down to increasing your heartbeat, something that can be achieved with workouts such as walking and swimming. Essentially, your workouts during this period should be the kind where you can still hold a conversation while you engage in them,” she says.

Safe times to work out
Although somewhat unpractical for some, say for Moslems, one of the best times is when one is not fasting. However, for some, these times are in the night and switching your whole timetable to exercise may not be practical, Rachel Nakamate, a fitness trainer, says.

The alternative, therefore, is before breaking the fast. While for some it is almost impossible to walk even for 15 minutes at this time, Nakamate says the ‘carrot’ is that you are a few minutes away from replenishing the calories. 

While fasting as well as exercising are healthy habits, combining the two calls for a lot of consideration. It may require seeking the advice of a medical personnel before doing so to avoid preventable negative eventualities.

Safe exercise while fasting 
Safety is absolutely paramount to any intermittent fasting workout routine. Above all else, pay attention to your body and look for signs of dehydration or low blood sugar. Safety guidelines to keep in mind as you exercise while fasting are:

● Stay hydrated. Drink more water than usual while you are fasting.
● Stop working out if you feel weak, dizzy or short of breath. 
● If you are fasting for 24 hours or more, stay on the safe side by only practicing low-intensity exercise, such as yoga or walking.
● On the cardio front, in general, stick to lower-intensity exercise, think elliptical rather than sprints, while fasting.
● Always check with your doctor before embarking on a new fitness regimen or dietary programme.



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