Aliya Zaidi

Fitness fanatic, Anj Baig is an award-winning personal trainer and owner of Pure Muscles Gym. Earlier this year, Anj, along with his younger brother, Moses, starred in Gurinder Chadha’s Desi Rascals, a new reality show, chronicling the lives of modern British Asians across West London.

I caught up with Anj to chat about how he maintains him gym routine in Ramadhan and got his take on the best way to stay healthy and active during this month of long fasts.

What’s the key to staying healthy in Ramadhan?

In Ramadhan, I would recommend working out about four times a week, but the main thing is the consumption of food, as you only have a short gap to work out and eat a certain amount of food.
The saying “you are what you eat” is so true. When you haven’t had food for nineteen hours and the first thing you do have is have samosey or pakorey, (are you ok with this? Or would you prefer samosa and pakora? Your call!) and then of top of that, you have a fizzy dink, it is just so unhealthy. And really, the whole point of Ramadhan is to cut down on bad habits.

For suhoor, I have a big bowl of porridge, because it slowly releases carbohydrates throughout the day. I’d have maybe 150g of oats, with water, four dates and two scoops of protein. The protein should be casein, as it’s slow releasing throughout the day. If you’re into bodybuilding, you might want to add 4-8 egg whites as well. I also have a cup of tea. Caffeine is fine, but don’t consume too much.

I personally need food as my fuel to train, so I work out after iftaar. For a lot of people, that can be hard because of the timings, because you can end up training at 11pm or 12am. I happen to own a gym, where I’m really lucky. I can open up for a couple of hours, and I open up longer hours in Ramadhan to allow people to train.

For iftaar, first I have a glass of water and then a large bowl of salad. Then I’ll pray, and after prayers, I’ll have some grilled chicken, with maybe 100g of brown rice. You can replace chicken with fish, such as salmon. Tilapia’s very good, as it’s very high in protein.

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I’d also recommend having a protein shake for both suhoor and iftaar, especially if you’re a fitness fanatic. As for snacking, you can get your fats and sugars from almonds or blueberries, for example. It’s very important that you have natural sugars.

I don’t recommend going on a low-carb diet during Ramadhan because you need carbohydrates as your fuel. You should be having complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice and sweet potato. And there’s no harm in training just before you break your fast, if you’ve got enough energy to do so.

There’s one thing I just can’t say enough: stay away from soft drinks and fried food as much as you can during Ramadhan, because you really don’t understand the effect of products like aspartame, which they use in fizzy drinks.

In terms of the level of exercise, I’d definitely go lighter. I don›t want anyone to risk any injuries, as naturally you’ll be a bit weaker without the nutrients that you need throughout the day.
I always recommend about 20-40 minutes of fast-paced walking every day, for a nice flat stomach, and this is during and after Ramadhan anyway. A fast-paced walk only burns fat, whereas jogging and running can actually end up burning some muscle.

Because 70% of your body is water, a lot of people end up dehydrated, which means you will lose muscle in Ramadhan. All I can do is tell you how to maintain what you have, and have a healthy diet.
It’s important to understand just going to the gym is not going to help your situation. I would say that’s only 30% of it. 70% is diet in this game now.

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If you were stuck on a desert island, what’s the one dish you’d want?

Do you know what the funny thing is? I am such a big meat eater, but the dish that I would want has no meat in it at all. I love a T-bone steak passionately; I love lamb as well. But I would want pasta con spinaci e funghi – as in creamy pasta with mushrooms and a little bit of spinach and chives.

What were some of your favourite dishes growing up?

So recently, I had a craving for halwa puri, and I actually went to a place where they serve Pakistani breakfast, so chaney, halwa puri. Lahori Masala in Wembley. It was amazing.
Growing up I remember eating keema paratha. I actually had an idea of opening up a paratha place. You could have keema paratha, mooli paratha, dhal paratha, carrot paratha, spinach paratha and then the ideas kept flowing.

You could have Nutella with paratha – my little brother would be there every day. This is terrible, for a gym owner to be saying, let’s open up a paratha house. But then again, it could be our cheat meal, couldn’t it?

What are some of your favourite restaurants in London?

I love Amigo’s in Acton for burgers. Tayyabs is one of my favourite restaurants; I love their lamb chops and mango lassi. Red Iron Burgers in Uxbridge is pretty good.Gifto’s is nice is Southall – they make a nice curry. I also recommend Nawabs.I know this sounds so terrible coming from a gym owner. However I go to the gym because I love food. And I get to burn it all off!

You can catch series 2 of Desi Rascals on Sky Living HD in July later this year.