Keeping Fit While Fasting

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The Holy Month of Ramadan is up on us, and while this is a special time of religious introspection, it needn’t be a time when your health and fitness falls away. We know it can get difficult, especially during the peak of summer, but here are some tips from Amy J Fox, personal trainer and health and skincare therapist, to ensure your Ramadan is a healthy one

fruitsStay Active
While I certainly don’t suggest over-exerting yourself, it is important to commit to doing a small amount of exercise daily, preferably just after Suhoor or once you have broken your fast for the day. Dr. Santosh Kumar Sharma, Medical Director at NMC Hospital, DIP in Dubai recommends taking out at least thirty minutes per day for physical exercise. Your goal during Ramadan should be to maintain your fitness levels. According to Hannah Mich, who has a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science, it takes about 14 days to start losing your hard-earned fitness gains. If you are used to heavy weight lifting, I would recommend giving it a rest during the fasting season, because your muscles won’t be receiving enough protein and the required nutrition for them to perform at their very best. Lower the weights to maintain your muscle mass. Aim to maintain and not to gain. Remember that exercising not only increases your fitness levels, but also makes a huge difference in your mood and the way you feel. You may find that this is what keeps you motivated throughout your fasting month. There is nothing better than a handful of post-workout endorphins.

Don’t skip meals
Never skip meals, especially the Suhoor meal. The extra sleep isn’t worth skipping your most important meal of the day. Start by eating the right foods at the right times. Eating slowreleasing carbs; such as oatmeal, brown rice, beans and whole grains as you wake up will give you lasting energy throughout the day and can help you feel fuller for longer. Eggs, fish and meat are also a great way to begin the day and if you’re still hungry after that, turn to fruit. If you don’t have a large appetite early in the morning then dates, nuts and almond milk are recommended. Dr. Anselma Ferrao, Medical Director at Brightpoint Royal Women’s Hospital in Abu Dhabi, agrees saying “Suhoor should be a wholesome, filling meal, that provides enough energy to see you through the day. Go for high-fibre foods and complex carbohydrates, such as grains and pulses. Your body takes longer to break down and absorb these foods, so they will fuel you better during your hours of fasting.” Not only will the right foods help you feel energised throughout the day, but also sustain even blood sugar levels.

Stay Hydrated
juicThis is by far the biggest worry during the fasting month and sounds impossible to do during Ramadan. So how do you keep hydrated? It all comes down to good food and drink choices. Make sure you drink plenty of water between Iftar and Suhoor, and avoid diuretic substances like coffee, tea and soda, as these will leave you feeling dehydrated and tired. Caffeine percolates calcium from your system, which makes you feel less full all the time. Avoid drinking tea at Suhoor, as it increases salt excretion in your urine, which your body needs during fasting. Rather, stick to water and if you are feeling more dehydrated than normal, try adding cucumber, lime, strawberries or mint to your water, which will add to the taste too.If you can take in 10 glasses of water (about 1.5 litres) from sunset to sunrise, you should be able to maintain a normal level of hydration. Remember that the need to stay hydrated is vital to your health! Dr. C. R. Shetty adds, “Due to reduced amounts of water intake in the month of Ramadan, one may become prone to kidney stones. Ensure that you drink ample water before starting your fast and after breaking it.”

Avoid junk food
mealsSugar is the devil, and even more so during Ramadan. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you are not eating regular meals that you can get away with more sugar. Your body will end up storing the sugar as fat, increase cholesterol levels and make you gain weight. Sugar can cause a number of health problems too, such as indigestion and heartburn, especially on an empty stomach. A rapid rise in your blood sugar level will lead to an excess of insulin being released into the blood. This gobbles up glucose and a few hours later you may begin to feel weak, miserable and extra sluggish. If you’re craving something sweet, dark chocolate is the answer and is known as a ’good mood’ food. It is rich in antioxidants and serotonin, which is the hormone of happiness. Dark chocolate is your ‘healthy sweet’. Because fasting can often increase gastric acidity levels in the stomach, it is also very important to avoid fried foods, very spicy foods and foods that are high in salt. Too much salt makes your body retain water and can make you feel very bloated and uncomfortable, while spicy foods induce thirst.

Get enough sleep
Try getting into a sleeping routine that works for you and do this as quickly as possible. Initially, it will be a challenge to change your natural sleeping patterns. So why not start before Ramadan? Sleeping after Isha’a prayers and waking up for Tahajjud prayers before Ramadan starts is a good training exercise to help your body get used to the shift in sleeping patterns, and will also mentally prepare you for the change. One of the best things you can do during Ramadan to ensure you aren’t neglecting your sleep is to take power naps during the day. These naps should be between 20-30 minutes, just enough time to boost your energy levels and keep you going for the rest of your fasting hours. If a bed is not in striding distance, closing your eyes for 10-15 minutes in a quiet room is just as beneficial.

Don’t forget your vitamins
vitaminsWhether you are fasting or not, vitamins should be a part of your daily intake. Unless you are only eating foods from the ground, it is likely that you won’t be getting all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. The top nutrients to look out for are vitamins C, B-complex, zinc, E and A. Vitamins C, A, E and zinc are all antioxidants and do wonders for your body. Vitamin B will help control your mood and give you an extra energy boost. While it’s important to feed your body with vitamins please remember that the time you take them is very important too. You cannot take your vitamins on an empty stomach as this can cause nausea, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, which is what we are looking to avoid, especially during the fasting month. According to Jill Corleone, a dietician, it is best to take your supplements directly after eating to ease discomfort and limit side effects. You may want to try vitamins in liquid form for easier digestion.