Ramadan: How a Professional Marathoner Trains While Fasting

Zouhair Talbi would run workouts at night after a 14-hour fasting period.


For the last month, Zouhair Talbi started his workouts well into the night. Under the street lights in his neighbourhood,  the professional marathoner often had his first meal in 14 hours during his warm-up routine.

After running three kilometres at an easy pace around 7pm, Talbi broke a daily fast with water and dates. While letting the food settle in his stomach, he stretched before beginning the hard effort with a long-awaited boost of energy.

From March 10 to April 9, the runner from Morocco observed Ramadan — the Muslim holy month in which those practicing fast from dawn to sunset. It’s a time dedicated to spiritual discipline, increased charity and generosity, and study of the Quran.

For an elite athlete logging 160 kilometres per week and racing against the best runners in the world, the extended fasting period can be tricky to navigate while training. But with eight years of experience running at a high level through Ramadan, the 29-year-old has honed a precise routine that’s led to personal growth in the sport and beyond.

“Ramadan looks hard, but it’s the same as training,” Talbi said. “You adapt your body to a new system.”

On March 17, seven days into Ramadan, Talbi ran a 1:00:41 personal best. During Ramadan, he also produced more videos for his YouTube channel, which aims to support an underserved community in the sport. For the last five years, Talbi has posted educational clips of running drills and workouts explained in Arabic in an effort to share knowledge with aspiring athletes in Morocco.

In an interview with Runner’s World, Talbi shared how he manages the fast while training, including adjustments with mileage and fueling, and the valuable insights he’s gained while observing the Muslim holy month.

Planning the season around Ramadan
Through trial and error, Talbi has learned to tailor his training in preparation for and during Ramadan, which comes at a different time every year because it is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a date-keeping system based on lunar cycles. When he was younger, Talbi tried to gain fitness during Ramadan, but he felt exhausted and his performances suffered as a result. Now, he focuses on maintaining fitness.

To account for the fasting period this year, Talbi built up his training volume to 200 kilometres per week in January and February. During Ramadan, he lowered his mileage by 15 percent and waned the intensity of workouts. He also added more strength training to maintain muscle mass. Ultimately, the shift in his routine has helped Talbi trust himself more.

“It took me a few years to learn because at a young age, I’m freaking out, like I have to do this split or this workout to get this result. Now, I’m like, no, I just need to train hard before and maintain,” Talbi said. “Your body will do the work.”

Fueling body and mind
Utilising knowledge from sports nutrition courses in college, Talbi honed a nutrition plan to fuel his body and sustain him during the daily fast. For the two meal times, he focused on proteins and slow-release carbohydrates, which provide a more sustained release of energy.

To eat before sunrise, Talbi woke up at 5 a.m. to make a large breakfast, often a meal with eggs, fruit, whole wheat toast, and a protein smoothie. If he was scheduled to run twice that day, he would do his first run after breakfast.

Depending on the workout, Talbi either broke the fast soon after sunset with a snack at 7:20 p.m. or ate a full meal around that time. For example, if the workout was at tempo speed, he would drink water with electrolytes and eat dates and bananas during the warm-up and a full meal after the session was complete. If he had a speed workout on the track or a long run, Talbi would eat a full meal and wait two hours for the food to digest before starting the workout (a few sessions ended around 1 a.m.) Dinner often included chicken, pasta, rice, vegetables, or Talbi’s favourite Moroccan soup made with chickpeas and lentils.

“It’s daily decisions that depend on the workout, depend on how I feel,” he said. “I listen to my body a lot and see if I feel good.”

This year, the first few days of Ramadan were the toughest for Talbi. When he started the fast — abstaining from all food and liquids during daylight hours — he got headaches. But he was able to manage the challenge by focusing on self reflection and generosity, which are primary intents of Ramadan.

Zakat, the practice of Muslims contributing a portion of their wealth to those in need, is an integral part of Ramadan. It’s common for Muslims to buy groceries or make donations to families during the holy month. For Talbi, that meant giving back to people in his hometown. “You just come to that human side of yourself where you’re thinking more about other people.”

Talbi’s YouTube channel is another way he aims to help the younger generation in Morocco. While becoming more invested in his training, Talbi saw how little knowledge was being shared about runners in his home country. Many elite athletes’ training regimens and workout specifics are kept secret, which prevents the sport from growing, he said. “We have to break this cycle and share more.”

In the last five years, he’s made almost 100 videos in Arabic that share training tips, full workouts, and his experience running in the American collegiate system. Right now, he has almost 6,000 subscribers. After seeing many young Moroccan athletes drop out of school to focus on running, Talbi hopes his videos show them it’s possible to pursue both at a high level.

After fasting for 30 days, Talbi finished 10th overall in 2:10:45 at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, five days after Ramadan ended. While the result wasn’t what he hoped for — he suffered a side stitch and had difficulty drinking fluids during the race — Talbi is proud of the way he pushed through the setback, now looking at the experience with a new perspective after observing the Muslim holy month.

“Spiritually, you feel strong and I think you go to the start line differently than before,” Talbi said. “If you spent the month fasting and doing good deeds, you go [into races] feeling proud, like you’re doing good things in life.”

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