During the holy month of Ramadan, a lot of people tend to add unnecessary inches to their waist-line due to improper eating and hazardous workout habits. In the following few lines I will outline the proper eating and training practice to be applied during this month.
To begin with, one has to state, that everyone should concentrate on fiber rich foods, grilled protein sources and complex carbohydrates that enable a constant supply of sugar to the blood stream and therefore prevent any serious fluctuation of blood sugar leading to hunger pangs. Examples of fiber rich foods are beans, all-bran cereals, legumes, lentils, dried fruits, and whole wheat / barley products. Apple, kiwi, banana and guava are among the best examples of fiber-rich fruits.
Examples of complex carbohydrates are bananas, barley, beans , brown rice, chickpeas, lentils, nuts (but are very high in calorie and should therefore be consumed in moderation), oats, sweet potatoes, root vegetable, sweet corn and whole grain products.
As a matter of fact, Iftar should be a balanced meal composed of all the main food groups, vegetables/salad, grilled protein sources and complex carbohydrates. Each one in moderate portion, as each one of them has a very specific function and should not be neglected at the expense of another. The problem here can be portrayed by the fact, that some people stuff themselves at Iftar in a marathon-like race to eat each and everything to be able to store nutrients for the rest of the month, thus missing the real meaning as Ramadan. Fasting has spiritual, physical, psychological and social benefits, which may be counteracted by these man-made eating habits.
Best strategy for having a healthy Iftar and so7oor
It is advisable to break the fasting period immediately at sun set by having a small portion of dates (very rich in nutrients) and a glass of skimmed or reduced fat milk to stimulate the digestive system and to give a signal to the brain that food is slowly coming in. During the prayer time the dates and milk will slowly stimulate the insulin secretion in the human body and prepare it for the following nutrients, by slowly stimulating the digestive enzymes. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) prayed after having some dates and fluids before sitting down to have an Iftar meal. This strategy will also prevent any occurrence of indigestion, which takes place when the digestive system is overwhelmed by horrendous amounts of food floods entering the body, withdrawing the blood carrying oxygen from the vital organs to aid in the complicated digestion process, thus giving the feeling of dizziness and lightheadedness.
Imagine taking your car out for a race without giving the engine and the motor oil/lubricants to reach their optimum operating temperature. To keep the metabolism on high revs, I advise people who fast to go for 3 meals composed of Iftar, a light but nutritionally complete snack and so7oor. One should endeavor to guarantee a constant time span between successive meals, to prevent hunger attacks due to the sudden drops in blood sugar.
Foods that should be minimized or preferably completely removed from the Ramadan menu are
a) Salty food in general, as they cause severe water retention.
b) Pickles, infinite amounts of sweets, foods rich in fat.
Generally things that should be avoided during the whole year should definitely be avoided during Ramadan. As a matter of fact, one should always opt for the fat free option.
For Nicotine and Caffeine addicts:
In addition to this, one should avoid carbonated beverages and caffeinated drinks (e.g. coffee and tea) as the first one causes bloating and is extremely unhealthy for the bones and the various vital parts of the human organism, while the second one is a diuretic which might lead to unnecessary dehydration. Diet versions of carbonated beverages are also not acceptable due to their aspartame content! One should stick to plain water and if the person in question decides to exercise, an electrolyte solution is the best pick in order to keep a continuous flow of vital elements and nutrients to the blood. One should never replenish sweat with plain water as this will decrease blood electrolyte levels to a dangerously low level, leading in extreme cases to seizures!
Coffee, tea and nicotine addicts should reap the benefits of the holy month of Ramadan by using its detoxifying power to the fullest, by slowly decreasing consumption of the above-mentioned hazardous chemicals before Ramadan starts. This will facilitate stopping it completely after Ramadan while minimizing the possibility of suffering from any rebound effects.
When to workout in Ramadan?
In regard to the optimal workout time in Ramadan, there are two main options:
If you are a non-working person and do not have a household chores then training in the morning after you wake-up is fine. A lot of people tend to train immediately before iftar, which they think is the best for burning fat. Wrong. If the human body does not find essential proteins in the blood stream necessary for the build-up and recovery of muscles, then it will break down precious muscle tissue, thus slowing down metabolism, muscle building and the fat burning furnace of the human organism at the same time. Remember: One pound of muscle burns approx. 30-50calories per day.
For elderly people, it is not advisable to work out before Iftar, as dehydration leads to an increase in the viscosity of the blood, which ends up in some cases with a stroke. If you train after Iftar, then keep at least 90 minutes between your workout and your meal. Also do not train right before so7oor and have your post workout meal and sleep. The blood will be distracted between digestion and muscle recovery and repair. Both will be compromised and none will be done in perfection.
Optimal sleeping habits in Ramadan
Last but not least, if possible try to take a small nap before Iftar. Taking a nap after Iftar will force you to a stay up till late night /early morning accompanied by a heavy so7oor and sleeping problems. Both digestion and the biological clock which affects our hormone orchestra will be negatively interrupted and prevented from working properly.
Therefore I would suggest not waking up to have a heavy so7oor as this will negatively affect your sleeping pattern. A comfortable sleep will recharge any empty battery in a fast and secure manner, whereas a non-constant sleeping pattern will cause lethargy, bad temper and horrible mood. So eat at whatever time you are used to and sleep. Do not try to reinvent the wheel by extra waking up again to eat.
Dr. Alhussein El-Shennawy
Nutrition Consultant and Personal Trainer
Copartner Kheiralla Clinic
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