Ramadan is a holy month observed during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and the exact dates change from year to year.
It’s a little over 1 month of fasting, prayer, and self-sacrifice. It is time to focus on your relationship with God. This means that Muslims cannot eat from sunrise to sunset.
From a coaching aspect choosing the right nutrition to fuel your body through the fast is paramount as side effects can be quite tough such as dehydration, headaches, dizziness, tiredness…
Therefore fuelling with good nutritious slow energy releasing food will be far more beneficial to that of fast-acting energy junk.
In the morning before the sun rises you have your pre-dawn meal.
The pre-dawn meal is called Suhoor while the post-sunset meal is known as Iftar.
Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) should encompass a wholesome meal that provides long-lasting energy throughout the day. Foods that provide long-lasting energy are complex carbohydrates and high-fiber foods.
Complex carbohydrates are foods that are rich in energy but release this energy slowly throughout the day. Examples include whole wheat, oats, beans, and rice.
Foods that are rich in fiber and are also digested slowly include fruits (raw and unpeeled) and vegetables.
Also, don’t forget the all-important fluids as they maintain water and salt levels in the body. Water and fluids with vitamins – like fresh fruit juices – should replace caffeinated drinks.
Caffeine – cold drinks, tea, and coffee – is a diuretic and promotes faster water loss through urination, which can lead to dehydration.
The fast will end at sunset when the Maghreb prayers begin, followed by an evening meal traditionally eaten with friends and family.
Having a balanced iftar is important as it’s the meal that replenishes energy stores and helps sustain your fast the following day.
You must place an extra effort into consuming the right foods to get the nutrients your body needs.
Ramadan is an opportunity to cultivate good eating habits that will stay with you after the fasting month ends.
Hydrate before eating
Drink plenty of fluids such as water, freshly squeezed juice, or milk. This will prevent dehydration and provide your body with the essential fluids it needs. Water remains your best source of hydration. Drink 1 – 2 glass of water before your meal and not during your meal to avoid delaying your digestion process. Be wary of Ramadan drinks because they contain a lot of sugar and calories.
Break your fast with dates
Traditionally, dates are eaten at the start of your iftar meal. Because they are a nutritious burst of natural sugar they fuel your body with much-needed energy. If you suffer from headaches during the fasting hours, most likely caused by low blood sugar, begin your iftar with 2 dates and replenish your sugar levels.
Have a bowl of soup
Soups are an indispensable dish in iftar. They’re rich in water and help you hydrate. Reach out for lentil, tomato, or vegetable soup and avoid cream-based soup. If you don’t enjoy a warm soup during the summer months, cold soups and Gazpachos make a great alternative.
Eat your greens
Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and provide so many nutrients in so little calories. The more colorful your salad, the more health benefits it holds. It also provides a feeling of fullness, ensuring you eat less on your main dish. Aim for 2 servings of vegetables per meal. One serving equals a 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables.
Choose good carbs
Your iftar meal should contain a source of carbohydrates, preferably complex. These include brown rice, whole grain pasta or bread, potatoes or burghul. Complex carbs provide a more stable and sustainable source of energy in addition to fiber and minerals. Complex carbs will slowly release the energy, unlike the processed white products.
Incorporate lean protein
At iftar, you should aim to eat high-quality protein that is highly digestible and contain all the essential amino acids. Your body uses these to build and maintain muscle mass. Beef, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, fish and poultry are all complete high-quality proteins. Choose lean proteins to get the benefits with little saturated fats. Include fish, skinless chicken or turkey, and low-fat dairy to have as part of your iftar meal. If you’re vegetarian, you can select other protein sources such as legumes, beans, and nuts.
Take it easy
Don’t be in a hurry to finish your food. After being deprived of eating for an entire day, overloading on food may lead to indigestion and other gastric problems. Have a light iftar that includes reasonable food portions. Controlling the size of your portion is key to staying healthy and preventing weight gain. As a rule of thumb, don’t exceed amounts you would have for a typical lunch or dinner meal.
Avoid foods high in fat, salt and sugar
Whenever possible, stay away from heavy meals for iftar that have too many unhealthy fats, salt, and added sugar. When cooking, make your favorite Ramadan recipes healthier by stewing, baking, roasting, steaming or grilling and avoid frying. Add herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your meals. Finally, replace sweets and sweetened drinks with naturally occurring sugar in fruits, dried fruits, and fruit salads.
To all my Muslim friends, family and colleagues I wish you a Happy Ramadam.