“While consuming food or drink, be mindful of how it makes you feel to avoid overconsumption over a short period of time.”
Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, fasting and detoxing. With the right approach, fasting can be a deeply rewarding experience with added physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. However, many of us are guilty of overindulging in rich, heavy foods at iftar time which can cause digestive issues and make it harder to uphold our fitness goals. We turned to Baraa El Sabbagh, a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist and personal trainer who is a recognized Adidas athlete, for how to stay healthy this Ramadan. Baraa has helped thousands of people make lifestyle changes that have helped them to increase their energy levels and improve their overall health. Between her social media platforms and her ‘B for Better Health’ podcast she constantly raises awareness about fitness and wellbeing.
Here she shares her tips on how to stay healthy this Ramadan.
What does Ramadan mean to you, and how does it impact your body?
For me, the holy month of Ramadan is a time to reconnect with my spiritual side, reflect on things that I could be doing better, how I can do more good in the world and spend quality time with my family, especially during suhoor and iftar mealtimes. While I do feel that I am unable to do a lot of the same things that I do when I am not fasting, I do appreciate the fact that my organs get to take a break during the day from digesting and I believe there are benefits to doing this once in a while.
Everyone suffers from slight digestive discomforts during Ramadan, how can we overcome them?
After many hours of not eating, it is hard to hold back at iftar time. However, many of us have experienced how eating too much too quickly can make us feel uncomfortable. I would say being mindful about how we eat is key. Start with a few sips of water, a small date and a small portion of soup to help soothe the body. While consuming food or drink, be mindful of how it makes you feel to avoid overconsumption over a short period of time. Eating small portions more frequently is a good way to combat digestive discomfort. Don’t feast in one go at iftar, but rather split it up throughout the evening. After eating, light exercise like walking can also help digestion.
How do you motivate yourself to workout this month, and what are your tips?
We can’t rely solely on motivation during Ramadan, because after feeling tired, dehydrated and hungry, motivation most likely plummets for most people. I would recommend setting an intention at the beginning of the month and thinking about why it’s important for you to work out during Ramadan. Use this as a constant reminder for yourself to work out. My advice is to schedule workouts in a way that means you are able to show up to your workouts without having to think about them too much. Find rituals that work for you, e.g. a walk before iftar or a training session after iftar – plan to do this with a friend, or have a podcast ready to listen to, all of this goes towards building a routine which will entice you to workout. Have a plan in place to show up to your workout rather than waiting for motivation to kick in.
How can we avoid the severe fatigue that strikes at the beginning of Ramadan?
The best way to avoid fatigue is by pacing yourself with your eating and drinking from iftar to suhoor. Replenish yourself with fluids – at least 2 to 3 liters of water – and wholesome foods with natural ingredients, minimize salty and greasy foods which will leave you lethargic the following day. Try your best to not skip out on suhoor and snacks to continue to feel energized. If you are unable to wake up for suhoor, have a light meal before going to bed, but do not miss the meal.
How do you train during this month, what are your recommendations? Before or after Iftar? And why?
When planning my workouts for Ramadan, I try and stick to what I have already been doing. I wouldn’t recommend starting a new routine during this time. E.g. If you strength train don’t start Crossfit, if you do yoga or Pilates don’t start anything more strenuous. Choose a workout you are used to in order to maintain the benefits. The timing of when to exercise fluctuates from person to person, if you find that you have energy before iftar and don’t get dizzy then some light exercise directly before breaking your fast is ideal, as you can then replenish your body with food and drink straight away. Many people prefer this time of day during fasting but the intensity of the workout does need to be reduced. Power walking, yoga, Pilates, Barre or a light strength training are all ideal for pre-iftar. For me the best time to train in order to maintain muscle mass and maintain my results is to train after iftar, while keeping my meal very light and saving my bigger meal for after my workout.
What do you have to break your fast?
I have water and a small date along with a small cup of soup because I know I will be eating a lot more throughout the evening. For my main iftar, I have vegetables, proteins and carbs.
What snacks would you recommend between iftar and suhoor?
I would recommend fruits and vegetables with high water content with a dip and some nuts. A slightly bigger snack could be a smoothie with protein and fruits, a chia seed pudding or an avocado mousse pudding. A small portion of leftovers from iftar that you were unable to eat at the time is also a great option. Water should accompany all your meals including your snacks.
Arabic sweets are so tempting in Ramadan, should we be eating these?
Arabic sweets are really hard to avoid during Ramadan – especially in the first week! If you like them, have them in moderation but remember there are 30 days of the month so pace yourself and have the ones that you really enjoy in moderation. Skip the ones that don’t really appeal to you, instead of eating them just because they are there. Just remember that these sweets have no nutritional value so you are better off choosing to consume nutrient-dense foods in that short window of time between iftar and suhoor. But having dessert in moderate portions every so often is good for the soul so make sure to enjoy that!
What do you have for Suhoor?
I like to think of suhoor as a time to eat my regular breakfast. I tend to choose a balanced meal like a protein oatmeal, or a protein yoghurt bowl and I like to make sure that I have proteins, carbs and fats that are rich in fiber on my plate. If I have a yoghurt bowl, I add protein powder to it and top it off with blueberries and bananas for hydration, vitamins and minerals as well as nuts and seeds (sunflowers seeds, walnuts etc) or nut butter as a source of good fat. I sometimes add homemade granola which is a healthy source of carbs, helping to keep me energized and feeling full for the rest of the day. Water is of course essential too.
What should we be eating to avoid dehydration during fasting?
There are a lot of foods we can take advantage of during Ramadan. It doesn’t always have to be water that gets us close to our hydration goal of at least 2-3 litres of water in the evening. Watermelon, oranges, apples, blueberries, grapes and melon are great fruit options. For vegetables, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce are all very rich in water content. I would also prioritize drinking milk or having yoghurt as they also combat dehydration. Focus also on having soups and stews that are high in liquid. Add herbs, spices and lemon to add flavour to your food instead of relying on salt.
Does drinking too much water at once have the same benefits as sipping water slowly all night?
I wouldn’t recommend drinking large amounts of water in one go as some studies have shown that it doesn’t get properly absorbed. Having sips of water throughout the evening is much better for your body to absorb the water and more comfortable for you. Frequent small meals and sips will ensure that you have a happy and healthy Ramadan!