Hijabi fitness pro Zehra Allibhai wants people to stay fit and healthy during Ramadan, a time when late-night hours and sugar-heavy treats can tempt even the most active individual.
That is why Allibhai, who is based in Canada and operates a popular website called The Fit Nest, created her Healthy Ramadan Guide. It’s a free-to-download ebook that focuses on making healthy choices during the Holy Month without sacrificing flavor. Heaving with recipes, it also includes advice on what types of foods to eat, what to avoid, what workouts to do and more.
“Ramadan is a month of spiritual growth, prayer and reflection,” she writes. “Yet many of us struggle with some of the physical challenges this month brings.”
Fasting abroad in countries where there are extra-long summer days can also be particularly difficult.
“This means it’s even more important to plan properly so that both the physical and spiritual benefits of this blessed month can be maximized,” she writes.
Ramadan is all about intermittent fasting
In addition to the spiritual side, Allibhai points out the growing body of research that there are physical benefits of intermittent fasting, too.
Harvard University recently published a blog post reviewing numerous studies where the author, Dr Monique Tello, acknowledged that, when done correctly, intermittent fasting can be incredibly effective for overall health and fat loss. It can also help with blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels, and protect against heart disease.
“The most common practice is the 8:16 split, eating during an eight-hour window, then nothing for 16 hours. Does it sound familiar?” asks Allibhai. “Yup… it seems like modern science is just catching on.”
However, this does not mean binge eating or starving yourself, she stresses.
“One common mistake people make during Ramadan is not eating enough in an effort to lose weight,” she writes.
How to stay hydrated during Ramadan
Drink around eight to 10 glasses of water during the night, Allibhai advises. “It may seem like a lot but trust me, it will make a huge difference to your energy levels during the day.”
And make sure to have two glasses at Iftar and two more at Suhoor.
“Carry a water bottle between the two,” she suggests. “I have multiple bottles of water in different places: by my prayer mat, in my car, by my bedside table, so it’s a no-brainer for me to take sips between prayers or when reading the Quran.”
Stick to whole foods with high-water content, like watermelons, zucchini, melons and berries, and cut back on coffees and teas as these can dehydrate.
Choose good proteins and fats
“While most of us have no problem packing in protein at Iftaar time — can we say meat sweats?! — it’s also important to have proteins at Suhoor,” says Allibhai. This keeps you feeling fuller longer and releases energy slowly during the day. She advises eating eggs, Greek yogurt, beans and even lean poultry from the night before. Skip unhealthy fats in processed foods and go instead for things like avocados, grass-fed butter and coconut oil.
Nothing will keep you feeling full entirely during the 16 hours after Suhoor.
“Remember that this isn’t all about completely avoiding discomfort,” says Allibhai. “The struggle is part of what Ramadan is all about.”
Yet by concentrating on whole foods with good proteins and healthy fats, you’ll set yourself up for a strong day.
When to exercise during Ramadan
Give your body a few days to adapt to the fasting before you launch into any exercise routine. Once you’re ready, aim for around three times a week.
If you’re eating good quality food in the evening and drinking water throughout the night, try working out just before Iftar.
“It’s not a great time for intense cardio, but it’s perfect for fasted cardio,” says Allibhai.
Fasted cardio involves working at lower intensities longer periods of time.
“It’s amazing at helping to burn fat,” she says. “You could hop on the treadmill, go for a walk, or head out on a bike, all for 45 minutes before Iftar.”
For strength training, focus on maintenance during Ramadan, rather than bulking and gains.
“This is not the time to start increasing your weights or trying to hit personal bests,” sys Allibhai.
Eat a light meal right after exercise. A protein shake blended with fruit and spinach is a personal favourite of Allibhai’s. Or try oatmeal with berries and nuts.
“Don’t worry — you can have a heavier and more traditional meal later on,” she advises.
Allibhai’s ebook can be downloaded free from her website.
Featured photo: Zehra Allibhai.
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer