With Ramadan approaching in just a few days, you must've heard of a friend or a colleague who's planning on kick starting new fitness goals, specifically during this holy month, and, in the midst of a pandemic. However, others might find it difficult to commit to a healthy diet, I mean, it is hard to say no to yummy Ramadan desserts, and avoiding a platter of signature appetizers. On the other hand, we also do observe a few people who tend to put on extra weight due to difficulty in controlling portion sizes upon the voice of the athan.
Intermittent fasting has taken the spotlight in the past few years, being considered as a method in maintaining a calorie deficit purely restricted to timing, the difference is that in Ramadan, Muslims completely abstain from food & drinks during the fasting hours, whilst in intermittent fasting, you can drink water or consume black coffee or plain tea during the fasting hours.
Here, I compiled some tips on how to maintain a healthy fast;
1. Decide on what your goal is
Do you want to lose or maintain weight ? Losing weight will require being in a calorie deficit, whilst maintaining weight will require consuming the right about of calorie in to calorie out ratio. For those who often gain weight in Ramadan, it is a wise goal to atleast maintain weight.
2. Avoid excessive servings of appetizers
I always recommend my clients to limit appetizers to 1-2 servings. It is so easy to get un-necessary calories before reaching for the main meal, especially appetizers such as cheese/veg/meat samosa which could pack 60-120 calories per serving depending on the size. Imagine having 5 pieces before the main iftar? That is equivalent to one big meal.
3. Fill up on Salads
Consume green leafy vegetables with limited amounts of starches, and top with a light dressing. Think of it this way, salads are rich in fiber, packed with vitamins and minerals, and have good water content, this will help in keeping you full and also contribute to your vitamin and mineral recommendations per day. An example of greens include: Spinach, romaine lettuce, roca, parsley, broccoli, etc.
4. Skip Ramadan juices
I always think of calories as investments. All you get from a glass of common Ramadan juice is sugars. I do occasionally allow fresh juices if there's no fruit consumption later on, but at least there is no added sugars and you're guaranteed to get your vitamin needs from fruit servings. Focus on getting an adequate amount of water instead of sugary beverages, and consider high protein smoothies as a snack, a post workout meal or a Suhoor option.
5. Portion control dried fruits
Breaking the fast with dates and dried fruits is a healthy way to bring your blood sugar levels back to normal after hours of fasting. Keep in mind not to consume extra amount of dried fruits and dates. Three pieces of dates and two pieces of dried fruits (Prunes, apricots, figs) contain approximately 100 calories.
6. Consume enough protein
Aside from the carbohydrate and sweet cravings we get, it is essential to ensure an adequate intake of protein. The restricted time period during the eating hours should be planned in a way that allows a balanced consumption of all macronutrients. Protein is also needed to maintain muscle mass, and, adds satiety.
7. Find healthy dessert substitutes
There are plenty of healthy dessert options to choose, be it a fruit serving (Yes, let's consider that as an option), or, homemade healthy dessert recipes. I do often recommend having a limited serving of common desserts if needed in order not to feel restricted, but sometimes, 3 tablespoons of knafeh don't work.
8. Stay hydrated
Don't forget your fluid intake. I know, it is difficult to secure your usual 2-2.5 liters of water especially during Ramadan, however, soups, yogurt and vegetables, also contribute to your fluid requirements. As for water, try to take sips whenever you can to prevent dehydration and thirst. Some fruit options are also hydrating, such as watermelon.
9. Enjoy a good healthy Suhoor
It is recommended to have Suhoor as it provides you with the energy to get through the fasting day. Make sure it’s rich in protein and does not include foods and ingredients that could trigger thirst, or lead to heartburn and bloating, such as spices, legumes and fried foods.
10. Keep moving
I usually prefer to exercise when my energy levels are at peak, and that is, 3 hours after iftar, if you feel the same, post iftar in 3 hours is a good time to get started with your workout. Some might get sluggish after iftar and so most probably, the workout won't happen. In that case, a pre-iftar workout session sounds about right, except it should not be intense to avoid getting dizzy or lethargic.
Wishing everyone a blessed holy month ahead!
Enjoy your favorite treats every now and then and remember to keep it balanced too. Ramadan Kareem.