FitnessFoodSurviving Hijab founder says to have a healthy Ramadan — but do it your way

Want to have a healthy Ramadan and stay on the right track throughout the Holy Month? Surviving Hijab founder Manal Rostom says do it your way.
Caitlyn Davey Caitlyn Davey2 weeks ago5011 min
Surviving Hijab Manal Rostom

“Don’t let people bully you about your nutritional choices,” Manal Rostom emphasises. “Don’t let anyone interfere with your choices and what kind of food you’re eating, or shame you into eating unhealthy foods.”

Manal Rostom is at a workshop held at Dubai’s NRG Fitness, speaking to a group about how to have a healthy Ramadan and to stay on the right track throughout the Holy Month.

“For me, as an athlete, I wanted to eat clean all the time. But then you can sometimes feel like you’re bullied,” says Rostom. “I feel it’s offensive that people stare at what other people are eating. It’s a personal journey and it’s a personal thing.”

She says people around her have questioned her choices, calling her decisions to eat clean “rabbit food” and food for animals, particularly at this time of year.

Rostom is a clinical pharmacist, personal trainer, marathon runner and founder of the 641,000-member Facebook group, Surviving Hijab. She’s also the first Arab on the Nike+ Run app.

The Holy Month can be an opportunity to improve your health, and lose weight while observing the fast, but you need to do it right, says the influencer. Otherwise binging at iftar can result in weight gain. Rostom says her own brother struggles each year, once gaining as much as 7kg during the Holy Month.

“Find what works for you, but be smart,” she advises.

Describing her ideal Ramadan day and night, Rostam explains that it has changed over the years.

“When I worked in the corporate [world], I would work until 3 or 4pm, then go home and sleep. I would sleep right until iftar time; if iftar was 6.52pm, then I’d sleep until 6.51pm,” she says. “If I was training through iftar, I’d have some water, dates and coffee in the gym with me, so I can break fast during that time.”

For suhoor, it’s about keeping it simple. “I’ll just have some foul, two boiled eggs and a bit of yoghurt. Keeping it simple means you’re not going to go crazy.”

Rostam spoke alongside Jonas Joskaudas, trainer and nutrition specialist for Craving Busters. People tend to complicate the fasting process, thinking they need to adjust their caloric intake. Not so, he explains.

The timing may be different, “but your intake of calories is the same as any other day,” he says. “Don’t raise or reduce your calories drastically. I would just say to be aware of how many calories you need.”

Joskaudas also explains that rather than gorging on those calories at iftar, and gulping down water, aim to ingest around 30 to 40 percent of your daily allotment of food, and 30 percent of your water daily water needs.

“Don’t drink one or two whole liters of water at iftar. Your body will just flush it all out, and you’ll end up dehydrated and with a headache,” he says. “Have about 30 percent of the recommended amount, and drink gradually.”

When you’re breaking fast, opt for foods with a high glycemic index, as they will be quickly absorbed for an energy spike. Jonas explains that the body absorbs carbohydrates better when you eat them with a fast-absorbing protein, such as whey protein or egg whites.  

And each year, Ramadan brings a recurring question: what time of day should you exercise if you’re fasting? “I would recommend starting with exercising 30 minutes prior to iftar time, to see how your body copes,” Rostom advises. “If your heart-rate is up, and you are okay – then that’s great. But if your heart-rate is up and you start to feel dizzy or blacking out, you need to stop.”

Using that 30 minutes before iftar is a good trial, because you can then rest and rehydrate at iftar time.

Rostom says it is true that doing cardio on an empty stomach means the body burns muscle instead of fat – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“For example, I’m a cardio athlete – when I’m training for a marathon, I don’t need a high muscle mass,” she says. “It’s up to you. But I would say, that if you’re exercising and looking to maintain your muscle, then you should go for weight training.”

And if you aren’t into working out prior to iftar, she recommends giving two hours after a try.

Ultimately getting through Ramadan in a healthy way is all about timing, finding out what works individually and making informed decisions.

Featured photo courtesy NRG Fitness, located at Marina Walk, Dubai Marina.

Caitlyn Davey

Caitlyn Davey

An Aussie journalist with a passion for snowboarding, CrossFit and the outdoors, Caitlyn is an freelance writer based in Dubai. She's previously worked at Time Out, 7DAYS UAE, Arabian Radio Network and Lovin' Dubai and has a serious coffee addiction.