What your diet and exercise should be this Ramadhan

By Ahmed Wafi

It’s not too late to switch up your diet this fasting month.

Many Muslims take advantage of the ‘built-in diet plan’ that Ramadhan brings to chisel their dream body for Raya. And why not! The reduced calorie intake paired with a moderate amount of exercise is likely to lead to a calorie deficit that will ultimately help you shed those extra pounds.

Just don’t regain all that weight come Hari Raya.

However, many people make the mistake of eating a little too much of the wrong foods once the azan sounds and as soon as the 30th day of fasting has passed, little to zero weight is lost. Maybe we’ll try again next year?

Maybe not.

To get a better idea of the right exercise and nutrition during fasting, we check in with Atilia Abdullah, a clinical dietitian with experience serving leading healthcare providers in Malaysia including KPJ Healthcare and Columbia Asia, on what your nutrition and exercise should be this fasting month.

What happens to our body when we fast?
A number of things. Firstly, due to the lack of glucose within our body, the gluconeogenesis process occurs. The what now?

Yes, it is a big word but gluconeogenesis is simply the body’s process of producing glucose when our intake of the sugar is below average. The liver helps to convert non-carbohydrate materials such as lactate, amino acids, and fats into energy.

Later into the fasting cycle, our body experiences ketosis, a process when the body burns stored fat as its primary power source. This is the ideal mode for weight loss and balancing blood sugar levels. Fasting also puts our body under mild stress, which makes our cells adapt by enhancing their ability to cope. In other words, they become stronger.

This process is similar to what happens when we stress our muscles and cardiovascular system during exercise.

How can we cope with hunger and thirst during the day?
There are four essential tips you can follow to make your fast more tolerable:

  1. Delay your sahur! Have your morning meal about 30 minutes before the fast commences
  2. Have a balanced diet during sahur. As recommended by the Ministry of Health, your plate should be a quarter protein, a quarter carbohydrates (complex carbs preferred!) and remaining half should be fibre like fruits and vegetables. Dates and milk are a good fit as they contain all the necessary nutrients.
  3. Put the coffee away. If there’s ever a time to turn down coffee, it’ll be during sahur. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks have diuretics effects which can cause us to feel dehydrated when the day comes.
  4. Water! During the period where you’re not fasting, look to drink at least two litres of water (drink more if you exercise often!). Apart from drinking, look to consume fruits that are rich in water like watermelon, celery, citrus fruits and cucumbers among others.

When is the best time to exercise while fasting?
High intensity exercise in the morning while fasting is not recommended as this could potentially lead to exhaustion and dehydration throughout the day. Instead, opt for moderate to high intensity exercises to be done 45 to 60 minutes before iftar.

What should an athlete’s diet consist of during Ramadhan?
For sahur, follow the guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health as mentioned earlier. If you’re training before iftar, break your fast with simple carbohydrates like dates followed by isotonic or sweet drinks to increase the glucose in your blood before moving on to your main meal.

If you are training later in the night, have some isotonic drinks after you’re done to increase glucose levels. This can be followed by foods with high protein content to retain muscle mass and promote muscle recovery. Better yet, have a serving of a whey protein drink! The body absorbs these kinds of protein faster.

Whatever the situation, don’t put too much on your plate just because you’re hungry. After the first few bites, you’ll already feel quite stuffed so always eat in moderation.

Remember, it’s not too late to get on your Ramadhan goal of losing some extra weight as long as you stay disciplined throughout this fasting month.

Have a blessed Ramadhan!

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