03 Jun Exercise and nutrition during Ramadaan
I was recently interviewed on Channel Islam International, an online radio about whether to exercise and what to eat during Ramadaan (Holy Month of Fast). For those of you who don’t know, this is when Muslims all over the world, abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
It is a spiritual detox as well as a physical detox. So this blog post will focus on the physical detox. Much like any detox, one needs to prepare the body for when the detox begins. So, it is just a few days before we commence with the fast, so you should be increasing your intake of water, cut out or cut down on processed and fast foods. Increase your intake of green vegetables and other veg as well as fruit. Try to limit your protein to the leaner, more clean proteins like chicken, fish and lean beef.
Suhoor/breakfast: You’re about to abstain from food and drink all day, so the key is to consume food that are Low Glycemic (LOW GI), which is slow release energy food. This means it’ll keep you fuller for longer. Examples of this are: oats, brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain bread (not be mistaken with wholewheat bread). Also, some good fats is also great to keep hunger pangs away – you can have dates stuffed with almonds, or stuff them with a nut butter of your choice (peanut butter, almond butter or Macadamian nut butter). Another good option for good fats are organic virgin coconut oil stirred into your oats – it’s delicious and not at all an overpowering taste.
Adding fruit like berries, or banana is also good options for breakfast, eat them as is or add them to your oats.
You CANNOT neglect your protein. I like adding a scoop of whey protein to my oats, or alternatively – make yourself a breakfast smoothie (recipe is at bottom of post). Another great protein for the morning is eggs – they are delicious and would be quite filling!
Drink loads of water, as much as you possibly can.
AVOID THE FOLLOWING
• Teas and coffee – these are dehydrants, so they will make you thirsty during the day. Rooibos tea has been shown to increase appetite, not a good idea while fasting!
• Cooked heavy meals – eating a proper plate of food like curries, stews etc is not ideal, as this would not give you the right balance of nutrition you will need to sustain you for the day. Also, these foods tend to be higher in salt and very spicy, which is also not good before fasting.
• Processed/fried goods – A bad habit we are all guilty of is eating some of the fried leftovers from the previous night’s iftar table – don’t do this – these are drenched in bad fats and will not be good for your digestion and nutrition for the day.
• Simple sugars – Stay away from sweets, juice or fizzy drinks – these offer no nutritional value and will spike your sugar levels only for them to crash soon after and make you feel sleepy and sluggish.
OH NO! YOU OVERSLEPT – So you’ve overslept and its minutes left till fajr (morning prayers) and you have to eat quickly – prepare for these days , have your stuffed dates ready. If you can make that smoothie and down it – then do that. Worst case scenario (this has happened to me!) make sure to drink water, when all else fails, because our bodies are 70% water – this is above all else what your body will need to survive the day.
Your body has been without food and drink all day long. So the main focus with iftar (before enjoying the indulgent treats) is to replenish your body. The Sunnah of the Nabi (Peace be Upon Him) has much wisdom in it:
“He who finds a date, let him break his fast on that. If he finds no date, let him break it on water, for verily that is purity.”
The wisdom behind this is the highly nutritious date has loads of health benefits including – promotes healthy bowel movements and increases energy.
Before reaching for those samoosas and cakes, I urge you to break your fast with a date or two and a generous glass of water. You will immediately feel replenished after this combination. Then you can dig into everything else on the table. The traditional veggie soup is delicious and a great source of nutrients after a day of fasting.
You can make yourself a protein shake (the same that you had for breakfast/suhoor).
If you are planning to workout – I would suggest having the dates and water and a protein shake and nothing else.
Make sure to drink about 2-3 litres of water from iftar throughout the night before you go to bed. You will see this will help you have regular bowel movements too keep your skin glowing and keep the headaches away.
If you like having an actual meal after iftar – make sure it’s healthy, good protein, good carbs (as mentioned above) and veggies. I know during Ramadaan, we do get cravings for certain foods – allow yourself to indulge in them once or twice a week – no more.
AVOID THE FOLLOWING
• Fizzy drinks and juice – These will not provide you with the nutrients you need your truly quench your thirst.
• Greasy food – the first thing you eat after fasting all day will be absorbed into your body and therefore your skin – so if you eat something deep fried or greasy first – this may cause a bad breakout on your skin.
• Processed foods – Fast food and processed meats (polonies, viennas, boxed ready made meals) – these contains all sorts of high levels of sodium and preservatives which will not provide your body with what it needs.
Well the big question I get asked every year around this time –should you continue exercising during the Fast? The short answer is yes, if you are able to. It’s best to maintain a moderate amount of exercise during the Fast. Nothing too hectic – just something that would maintain the level of fitness you had pre-Ramadaan.
Do a maximum of 30-40 minutes of low intensity exercise for 2-3 times a week.
Avoid endurance (running on the treadmill or cycling for prolonged periods of time), plyometrics ( e.g. jump lunges etc), speed and agility training.
So do a good weight training session and some explosive cardio in between each set for about 30 seconds (e.g mountain climbers or bicycle crunches). Yoga (NOT HOT YOGA!!!) is also a great option.
If you feel any nausea or dizziness stop working out immediately!
REMEMBER TO HYDRATE WHILE YOU WORKOUT! – WATER WATER WATER!!
MY RAMADAAN PROTEIN SMOOTHIE
• 2 Scoop Whey Protein (Men – have 3 scoops)
• ½ cup of oats (Men – 1 cup) – You can soak this overnight in water/almond milk/milk
• 2 tbsp chia seeds
• 4-5 strawberries
• ¼ cup blueberries (they can be the frozen ones)
• 2 tbsp nut butter (almond/peanut/macadamia)
• Banana (optional)
• Handful of baby spinach ( OPTIONAL – sounds weird, but you won’t taste it among everything else)
• Water/milk/almond milk
• ½ tsp cinnamon
Put all these ingredients in a blender and liquidise together. This can be enjoyed for suhoor or iftar.
All the very best with the Holy Month of Ramadaan, may it be spiritually uplifting for each and every one of us
Happy Healthy Fabulous
Photography : Hemisha Bhana
Pictures of me working out: Tegan Smith