It is that time of year again and the holy month for Muslims is upon us. Ramadan is where we fast for 30 days from sunrise (sahur) to sunset (iftar). Abstaining from food and water during the hot months of Ramadan might be challenging, however for most Muslims, the holy month presents an opportunity to increase the spiritual and physical well-being. By taking the focus away from food, you have room to focus on more enriching and important things in life.
However, the month of Ramadhan can play havoc with our dietary patterns and nutritional levels. Alongside the sweltering Indonesian heat, restricting fluid and food intake can also have a negative impact if you do not take precautions—leading to heartburn, constipation, dehydration, irritability, lack of concentration, weight loss and weight gain. While staying fit and healthy is no-rocket science, many question how to stay fit during Ramadan. To not fall sick due to dehydration and the demands of this month, there are certain tips that one should surely keep in mind. Here we have outlined few simple tips to help you stay in optimum health:
1. Wake up for sahur
Although it may be tempting to sleep in and miss sahur, this meal is an important part of fasting. Just as breakfast is the most important meal of the day, sahur is equally important during Ramadan. The pre-dawn meal is mandatory—both religiously and for your diet—because it provides you with the fuel you need to stay energised and functional during the day until your next meal at iftar. Since the fasting hours are long, missing out on sahur can have a direct effect on your health on the following day.
2. Break your fast slowly and don’t overindulge
While it is tempting to overindulge at iftar after a day of food deprivation, it is important to break your fast slowly. Don’t overeat to try and compensate for lost calories in the day. Take your time and don’t eat more than what you would in a normal day outside of Ramadan. Ramadan or not, consuming more calories than you burn will always lead to weight gain and cause other problems such as tiredness, dizziness, nausea and even depression. So take your time and eat slowly—this will give your brain enough time to receive the signal from your stomach that says ‘I’m full’.
3. Eat balanced meals only
For more energy and vitality, you have to ensure the foods you’re taking during sahur are wholesome and packed with nutrition. It should contain complex, slow-releasing carbohydrates like oats, wheat, lentils that will give you a feeling of fullness for the rest of the day and keep your blood sugar steady. The meal should also be high in fibre (granolas, fruits, and vegetables), and proteins (eggs, meat, yogurt, milk and cheese), with a little fat (nuts, avocados, olive oil), which are recommended to keep you hydrated and help replenish your energy throughout the day.
Iftar, the evening meal that ends a Ramadan fast, must begin with dates, then soup, a salad, followed by the main course. Long hours of fasting causes a tendency to crave sweet or unhealthy food, so an ideal practice is to begin a meal with two to three dates. Dates are a great source of energy for the body, helping it to secrete digestive enzymes in preparation for the upcoming meal. This helps to ease the stomach into eating after a long day of fasting and replenishes the body’s fluids and blood sugar levels. Afterwards, you may get started on some warm soup. The main dish, which can be delayed until later, must be balanced. It should consist of wholesome ingredients, plenty of fruits and vegetables, in addition to sources of slow-releasing carbs and lean proteins. This ensures that you will not be uncomfortably full after a day of fasting.
4. Try to cut down on foods that are deep-fried and processed
Avoid heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as sugary cereals, pasta, and white bread, as well as fatty foods like Ramadan desserts. These foods break down easily in the body, causing a spike in the blood sugar, which leads to more hunger and lack of energy. These foods are also high in fat and low in nutrients. They should be avoided during Ramadan as your body needs all the nutrients it can possibly get.
Avoid deep-fried foods too. Deep-fried foods are one of the main reasons why people feel bloated and gain weight during Ramadan. After long hours of fasting, our stomach become sensitive to foods that are deep fried or too rich. Choose grilled, baked and steamed food instead of fried.
5. Stay hydrated
Not having enough fluids, during this period, can easily make anyone prone to dehydration or suffer from electrolyte imbalance. Electrolyte balance is important in order to avoid feelings of thirst. Drink 10-12 glasses of water daily from iftar to sahur in order to prevent dehydration. Don’t guzzle down your water, otherwise the body will excrete it if it’s too much in one go. Aim to drink about 200-250 ml per hour until you begin your fast again so your body can absorb it properly.
Beware of consuming a lot of popular sugary, fizzy and caffeinated drinks as they stimulate water loss much faster, which can lead to dehydration. It is best to drink plain water, but other refreshing drinks such as coconut water is also beneficial to increase the electrolytes in your body, which are essential for heart, nerve and muscle functions.
6. Don’t use Ramadhan as an excuse to not exercise
Some people tend to remain sedentary and gain weight during the month. Although you should not be going to your regular spinning or kickboxing classes during Ramadan, you shouldn’t ever stop working out completely. It is crucially important that you do some light exercises over Ramadan in order to maintain the results you’ve worked hard for all this time.
Always have a gap of at least 2-3 hours because after we eat, blood circulation is diverted more towards the digestive organs so that maximum absorption of nutrients can take place properly. The best time to hit exercise during Ramadan is either early in the morning after sahur, or after iftar. Exercising after iftar is suggested because during this time your energy levels are at their best and rehydration is possible. Light exercises and workouts such as yoga, or the treadmill is recommended. It is best to focus on light cardio exercises and not put yourself through very high intensity training during this time. Maintain hydration throughout your workout and don’t forget to drink plenty of water after, to replenish the water and mineral lost due to sweating.
7. Consult to your doctor if you have a physical condition
Prior to Ramadan, Muslims, particularly seniors, pregnant women, children, individuals taking medication and others with medical conditions should consult their doctors and adapt their fasting to the advice given.
Recovery is important, so go to bed earlier than normal. Before you sleep, you can have a small snack—yogurt with nuts or some fresh fruits to feel fit, healthy and strong.