Five Top Tips about Ramadan

How much do you know about fasting and Ramadan?

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims practice fasting from dawn until dusk.  This holy month is often seen as a time to practice self-control, discipline, reflection and empathy for those less fortunate.  The fasting window is during daylight hours, and in most parts of the world, work and schools continue to operate as usual.  Some Muslim counties will reduce the typical working hours to allow more rest for fasting Muslims during this holy month, due to late night and early morning eating and prayers.  There is evidence from many sources that fasting in general can have positive effects for your health, such as reduced total cholesterol/ HDL ratio, reduced C-reactive protein, and improving insulin sensitivity associated with weight loss (1, 2), and these effects may be enhanced with calorie restriction (3).  However for some the non-fasting window is seen as a time to stock up energy, and over-indulgence is also quite typical.

TOP TIP # 1 - Consult your doctor

Before starting Ramadan it is advised that if you are taking medications, are Diabetic, pregnant, breast-feeding or unwell, you may need to be reviewed by your Doctor.  Some Muslims maybe exempt from fasting if they have any health issues that could be made worse or affect their well-being, or others, such as pregnant or breast-feeding women.  Ultimately, this will be the decision of the person, but the Doctors advice should not be ignored.  Often the fasting can be undertaken at another part of the year if they can’t partake during the holy month, or if a few days are missed for medical reasons it can be made up later in the year.

TOP TIP # 2 - Drink plenty of water

Most non-Muslim fasting protocols allow water and zero calories drinks (such as black tea and coffee), however during Ramadan nothing at all is allowed to be ingested.  It is very important that between breaking the fast (Iftar) and the last meal at the start of the day (Suhoor), a lot of water (predominately) is consumed.  Water is a component of a lot of foods, so include plenty of hydrating fruits, vegetables and soup.  It could be a good time to also wean off the caffeinated drinks as often in the first few days of fasting, many people suffer from headaches due to caffeine withdrawal.

TOP TIP # 3 - Sugary foods

Ramadan will typically involve consuming many traditional foods, which are often very high in sugar, such as sweet cakes, biscuits, desserts and drinks.  These are likely to be consumed to help with rapidly improving blood glucose levels after the fast, however often over-consumption occurs due to hunger and cravings for high sugar foods and drinks.  Breaking the fast with 3 dates and water (maybe also with Laban – yoghurt style drink) is a good start, then after prayers have a small Iftar meal which is well balanced with lean proteins, complex high fibre carbohydrates, and lots of colourful fruits and vegetables.  Any special dietary concerns should be discussed with a Dietitian and specific meal plans designed.

TOP TIP # 4 - Avoid overeating

Due to the long fasting periods during Ramadan, it is very common to over eat at the Iftar meal, and then constantly graze throughout the night.  Any additional energy consumed, that the body will not need during the non-fasting window, is referred to as positive energy balance and will lead to weight gain.  Aim to eat mostly healthy lean meats, plenty of salads and fresh fruits, as you would normally when not fasting.  Avoid eating fried and spicy foods, these may not be the best choice after a fast as they can cause indigestion.  If you have eaten a big meal, then try doing some light exercise to assist digestion.  Also avoid drinking too much fluid at once, spread the fluids out over the evening and early morning, as this can lead to bloating and gastric discomfort or even vomiting if large amounts of fluid are consumed at once.

TOP TIP # 5 - Exercise

Exercise can be undertaken safely during Ramadan, and in many Muslim countries there are regular annual Ramadan ‘games’ or tournaments for many sports.  These games are usually after Iftar, and may start as late as 10pm at night to allow for digestion of the Iftar meal.  If you want to exercise you can continue your usual training regimen, but it is probably best to complete light activities during any fasting period and then more vigorous intense exercise after breaking the fast…and allowing adequate digestion time.   If you want specific exercises then you should talk to a qualified trainer. 

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References

1.      Dansinger, M. L., Gleason, J. A., Griffith, J. L., Selker, H. P., & Schaefer, E. J. (2005). Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. Jama, 293(1), 43-53.

2.     Harvie, M. N., Pegington, M., Mattson, M. P., Frystyk, J., Dillon, B., Evans, G., ... & Son, T. G. (2011). The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. International journal of obesity, 35(5), 714.

3.     Klempel, M. C., Kroeger, C. M., Bhutani, S., Trepanowski, J. F., & Varady, K. A. (2012). Intermittent fasting combined with calorie restriction is effective for weight loss and cardio-protection in obese women. Nutrition journal, 11(1), 98.

Please email  rachel@megabitenutrition.com for any nutrition topics you would like to learn about.

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