Fasting has grown in popularity as a way to lose weight and improve overall health. But does it work for swimmers?
I decided to give it a try. I challenged myself to swim at least 1,000 meters every day for 30 days while fasting. That means not eating or drinking anything at all. No, not even water!
I was curious to see what would happen to my speed in the water, how my body weight would change, and how I would feel both in and out of the water.
Why I Fasted for 30 Days
Of course I didn’t go 30 days without eating anything…that would have been irresponsible and I would have probably died of starvation!
I fasted for Ramadan, which is a holy month in the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn to sunset.
Before sunrise, some Muslims have an early morning meal, called suhoor. And once the sun sets, it’s time for the evening meal, which is called iftar.
Health Benefits of Fasting
So you might be wondering, why on earth would you put your body through that? Isn’t restricting your body from food for that long bad for your health? That’s a valid concern, but here’s what the science says.
Related: Why do Swimmers Eat so Much?
Fasting can actually increase your growth hormone levels. When you’re hungry, your body releases a hormone called ghrelin, which binds to the receptor in the brain that normally binds to what’s called growth hormone releasing hormone. So believe it or not, the hunger hormone can act like growth hormone releasing hormone and can thereby stimulate growth hormone.
If you don’t believe me, go watch some of Andrew Huberman’s content. It’s really cool.
The levels of growth hormone that fasting promotes through this ghrelin system are pretty substantial. It about doubles your growth hormone levels while you’re awake.
What My Fasts Looked Like
During Ramadan, I fasted for an average of 19.6 hours each day. I broke my fast at sunset, which was around 8:30 PM, and then I ate another meal a few hours later, between 11 PM and midnight. During this time, I was going to bed around 2-3 AM and waking up at 10 AM.
I’m lucky to have the flexibility in my schedule to do this. But even if you’re not fasting for Ramadan, most intermittent fasting schedules go for 16-18 hours, which means you don’t eat after 6 or 8 PM and break your fast around noon the following day.
So, I was basically following a common intermittent fasting schedule, just in reverse due to Ramadan!
Swim Training During Ramadan
When you swim every day, something amazing happens! The more time you spend in the water, the more refined your feel of the water becomes. As soon as you stop swimming, you start to lose this feeling almost immediately.
Because I was swimming less volume (about 1,000 meters per day), I was able to handle swimming seven days a week, and that’s what helped me improve my feel of the water.
I was essentially swimming once every 24 hours and even though I was a bit fatigued due to my fast, I felt an incredible connection to the water.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. To make this challenge more complicated, I swam every day while maintaining my weight lifting routine as well.
I did a three-day split in the weight room, and even though I gave myself more rest between sets, I was definitely feeling some fatigue in the pool. I was also dehydrated, because there was only so much water I could drink in the evenings.
I’ve done other swim challenges in the past, like when I swam every day for 30 days, or my longest streak of 100 days in a row, but this was totally different. No food or water during the day meant I fatigued faster than if I was eating normally.
Fasting During Taper
This Ramadan fasting challenge happened right before I was set to compete in the 2023 U.S. Masters Nationals in Irvine, California.
I knew I needed to ramp up my speed and taper off the weights, and that’s exactly what I did!
If you’re not familiar, taper is when you’re fine tuning your stroke technique, getting race ready and starting to deload yourself so you have more energy and can perform at the highest level.
One of the biggest things I did during my taper was cut out weight lifting, which helped boost my energy. I started to notice more pop in my stroke because I wasn’t so broken down. My feel of the water continued to improve and I started adding more race-specific training to my workouts.
I posted almost daily updates on Instagram about what my workouts were like, how fast I was swimming and what I was working on.
I followed a structured workout routine in the MySwimPro app to stay on track and keep myself accountable to swimming the full 1,000 meters every day. I’ve never appreciated having a coach on my wrist as much as I did during this challenge, because some days I really wanted to get out early and save my energy, but I had MySwimPro right there on my wrist pushing me to finish.
U.S. Masters Nationals
Soon enough it was time for me to travel to Irvine for U.S. Masters Nationals. After all that fasting, it turns out that my dedication paid off.
At age 31, I nearly hit my college best times. I was under 1:00 in the 100 yard breaststroke for the first time since 2019, and I felt really powerful in the water.
4 Reasons I Swam Faster After 30 Days of Fasting
Yep, I actually swam faster at the end of my 30 day fasting challenge. Looking back, I think this came down to four things:
1. I Swam Every Day
I developed an awesome feel of the water. At nationals I swam the 50 free, 100 free, 50 breast, 100 breast, and 100 IM, so I had to swim all the strokes. I always say, if you train all the strokes, you’re going to swim faster.
2. I Cut Out Weight Lifting
I stopped lifting during the second half of Ramadan so I would have two to three weeks of rest before nationals. Do I think I could have swum just as fast if I kept lifting? Maybe, but it would have hurt a lot more, and my stroke would have fallen apart more quickly.
3. I Did Test Sets
I repeated the Endurance Challenge I Test Set in the MySwimPro app four times during my 30-day challenge, which was helpful to benchmark where I was at throughout the month.
This Test Set is focused on 5×100 freestyle on a Threshold interval, which was a great test of my aerobic endurance and ability to push myself with short rest. I started Ramadan doing the 5×100 on 1:20, and by the end of the month I was doing them on 1:10.
When you do a test set multiple times, your body figures out how to push itself more than if you just do a workout once. It sounds obvious, but the more you do something the better at it you get.
I’ve done repeat 100s dozens of times, but to do the same workout every 10 swims is really the perfect scenario to make sure you’re swimming faster over time. If you want to train like me, check out the MySwimPro app!
4. I Swam With Paddles
I have a disproportionate amount of upper body strength with pretty good technique. Adding paddles to my workouts made my stroke more powerful and efficient, and added a bit of resistance that helped me improve my feel of the water.
What Happened to My Body After 30 Days of Fasting
After a month of fasting and swimming, I actually gained 2 pounds or about 1 kilogram. I started the month at 170 pounds which is about 77 kilograms. After daily weigh-ins, I finished the month at 172 pounds or about 78 kilograms.
This is the first time I weighed myself every day (and even sometimes multiple times per day), and it was fascinating to see how I fluctuated from about 167 pounds before breaking my fast to about 173 pounds before going to bed. It’s pretty crazy what the human body can do!
Overall, I was really happy how the month went.
Fasting teaches you self control, mindfulness, and gratitude for the food and water you have access to.
Regardless of the type of fasting you do or why you do it, there’s something to be said about how powerful the human body and mind is. If you’re looking to take part in a challenge like this, or have tips for others, drop them in the comments!