How to Stay Fit and Healthy During Ramadan

7 tips for busy professionals to stay sharp during the holy month.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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While Ramadan for some people means gatherings with family and friends, indulging in cooking feasts, and creative desserts, for others, fasting is an opportunity to self-regulate, slow down, and focus on spiritual, mental, and physical needs. “Ramadan is such an interesting month when it comes to our relationship with food. It's like a yo-yo between urgency and (over)indulgence, repeating every day,” says Yasmine Nazmy, a holistic health coach who uses the principles of Chinese dietary therapy and traditional Eastern philosophies.  

So what does fasting do to our bodies? “Fasting allows our bodies to detox, self-repair, and eliminate toxins (autophagy). You can maximize the benefits of fasting by focusing on the quality of food you consume between Iftar and Sohour,” Yasmine El Fouly, functional medicine practitioner and nutrition coach, tells Inc. Arabia.  

We've gathered tips from fitness coaches and nutritionists on how to use this month to enhance your health and sharpen your focus. 

1. Get quality sleep 

All the experts we spoke to told us that fatigue and lack of focus while fasting are the result of a lack of quality sleep rather than a lack of food or coffee. Many suggest maintaining an uninterrupted sleep routine, especially between 10 PM and 2 AM.

One thing that doesn't help is staying up until Sohour and then having coffee and going to bed. “That means you waste all the good quality sleep hours. When you have coffee and go to bed, even if you sleep, it is not deep sleep, or when you sleep and wake up to prepare Sohour, your sleep cycle is disrupted,” El Fouly tells us.

The experts we spoke to recommend taking a power nap during the day, going to bed at a reasonable time, and then waking up for a bite at Sohour

2. Know when--and how--to workout 

Fitness coaches suggest gentle exercise 1-2 hours before Iftar, or regular workouts after. For those who want to lose weight, medium-intensity cardio like running, and racket sports like tennis, squash, or padel tennis are great, says fitness expert, and head coach Emad Ali. 

Fitness professional and gym owner Mohammed Roshdy tells us that running is a great exercise for busy professionals before or after Iftar.  

3. Keep an eye on your plate 

El-Fouly tells us that a good Iftar plate should be divided into vegetables, which should make up half of your plate, one-quarter of protein, and one-quarter of carbs. “Start with a salad, then have your protein, then your carbs,” she says. 1-2 hours later, have a piece of fruit and some nuts. At Sohour, complex carbs like whole wheat, oats, and beans are ideal as they are digested slowly and will make you feel full for longer. Other suggestions include an omelet with veggies, whole wheat bread, and a piece of fruit for vitamins and minerals.

Some people break their fast with water, dates, or dried fruit and then hit the gym, pushing the big Iftar meal until after their workout. 

“I generally recommend Iftar as a lunch: Warm, savory, and not too filling. Some soup, a bowl of rice or roasted vegetables, and grilled protein. Make sure to leave enough space for deep belly breaths! Have a normal dinner 2-3 hours before bed and keep Sohour simple.  An easily digestible yet energizing Sohour can look like this: Wholewheat bread with eggs, beans with Baladi bread, warm oatmeal with cooked apples, baked sweet potatoes, or a humble bowl of spiced rice,” says Nazmy.   

4. Stay hydrated 

Our body is 70% water, and the main reason for headaches and lack of concentration is dehydration. In addition to drinking plenty of water and adding electrolytes to your Sohour, experts recommend adding more water-based fruits and veggies to your meals, like cucumber, pineapple, melon, and zucchini. They recommend consuming herbal teas and avoiding coffee and carbonated drinks. 

“Mint is perfect for those who tend to feel hot and are prone to constipation. Licorice is amazing for someone with low blood pressure who feels tired/sluggish most of the time, although people with high blood pressure should avoid it,” says Nazmy.  

Nazmy recommends avoiding fruit juices, as they spike insulin levels. “Only lemon water is considered neutral in the fruit group. Neutral or slightly warming herbs are carob, fennel, anise, cardamom, etc. Those are the best companions for a meal,” says Nazmy.  

5. Reduce sugar intake 

It is almost impossible to resist the temptation of Ramadan desserts. But the problem with sugar is that it causes your blood sugar to spike and then brings on an energy crash.  

Try to alternate between Ramadan desserts and fruits or healthier options like dark chocolate, protein bars, or Greek yogurt with berries or raw honey.  

6. Practice mindfulness 

Experts we spoke to recommend that we practice mindful eating, eat in small bites and chew slowly, breathe, and connect with our bodies. “Try eliminating distractions during mealtimes (like TV, news, etc.) and enjoy positive conversations over food,” says Nazmy. 

7. Slow down  

Some people use Ramadan as a time to closely monitor their calories, detoxify their bodies, and increase their workouts. “In Ramdan, gym memberships spike, and there is a nice Ramdan spirit with people working out so they stay fit and fight the temptation together or burn those extra calories of a slice of kunafa,” says Roshdy.  

Other people like to take it easy and downscale everything: Eat less, work less, and do less. “I highly encourage sportspeople, myself included, to use this month as a cleansing phase, and not obsess about calories, exercise reps, or hours spent in the gym,” says Nazmy.  

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