It may seem like an impossible task to meet your weight-loss goals while fasting, but it’s not impossible. What it does require however is strategy. Weight gain is a result of consuming more calories than you are burning; during Ramadan Iftar can mean feasting with family and friends, resulting in the sudden intake of fatty foods that do little for your body goals.
Feda Alkilani, Nutritionist at American Wellness Centre in Dubai, says: “Ramadan fasting is basically a type of intermittent fasting, the latest trend in weight loss, provided that you eat the right amount and quality losing weight can be not only doable but also easy during this Holy Month.”
What is intermittent fasting?
This time of fasting focuses on eating patterns, when you schedule a window where you will consume. The rest of the time you do not eat. Typically, followers give themselves a 6-8 hour period of consumption. Water and non-sugared caffeinated drinks such as black coffee and tea are allowed.
For the best results focus on both food and exercise. Here are some tips to help you get to where you want to be. First off, let’s talk exercise.
What’s the best time to exercise while fasting during Ramadan?
Experts agree on the fact that regimes must be moulded to food timings so you can get the best out of your workout. James Appleton, personal trainer and Head of Ultimate Performance Dubai’s private DIFC and Marina gyms, explains: “The best times to train are either early in the morning after your first meal, or after your first meal following the fast so you are well fueled to train.”
Milos Vukovic, of PTD Fitness, adds: “As the body is in fasting state we shouldn’t do high intense cardio before we break the fast, but strength training and low intense exercises are very beneficial for fat burning as glycogen is depleted so we will use energy directly from our fat.
“If we train after Iftar we can do also high intense exercises like circuit training.”
Hydration is key to any exercise. “Remember, with the heat and long days during the Holy Month, it is very easy to become dehydrated – especially if you are exercising,” says Appleton. “Even hydration levels of 3 per cent can limit strength and power output which will dent your performance in the gym. Ensuring you are adequately hydrated is also essential during a fat-loss programme as it can help reduce feelings of hunger and cravings.” Pro tip: Try an electrolyte drink which can help replace minerals lost through sweat including sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
How often should you work out?
Appleton says: “If you are completely new to exercise, 30 minutes of walking per day is a good starting point and equates to around 4,000 to 5,000 steps. Once you have established the regular daily habit of walking, you can look to build this up towards 10,000 to 12,500 steps per day.”
“A sensible training frequency is three training sessions per week for most people, which will allow for ample recovery time.”
Cardio or weights – what’s a better option during Ramadan?
If your goal is to lose weight, improve your body composition and optimise your health, says Appleton, cardio can be a good tool to increase energy expenditure, but the main focus should be weight training, especially because it will help minimise your risk of muscle loss.
“Cardio can be a good tool in our toolbox to help drive fat loss. But HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) style training, like sprints, and MISS (Medium Intensity Steady State) style training, like running, can put additional stress on the body during the fast, which is itself a stressor on the body,” he adds.
One thing the fitness experts agree on is that walking is a good option. “Walking is a gentle and low-intensity form of exercise that will minimise stress on your body during the Holy Month,” says Appleton.
He adds: “Ramadan can also be a good time to pick some new exercises to work on and include in your programme. Normally, learning new exercises can be frustrating as you have to lift lighter weights while you perfect the technique. But Ramadan can be the perfect time for this – starting light, focusing on technique and still feeling like you’re making progress.”
Do you have to go to a gym?
No. There are plenty of workouts you can do at home to get fit. Here’s an example of a house-bound training session, as given by Vukovic :
- 4 sets of push-ups: 2 wider and 2 inside 15 reps each
- 4 sets of dips on the bed
- 4 sets of jumping jacks 20 reps each time
- 20 chair squats (sit on the chair and stand up). Do the reps slowly to keep the tension up
- 4 sets of reverse lounges 12 reps each
- 3 sets of 20 crunches
- 4 sets of 20 back raises
And now, let’s head to the table. What’s on your plate determines your energy and nutrition levels – both of which oscillate through a fasting day. Here’s how you can take advantage of the peaks to make progress.
But first, what are some of the common mistakes that may lead to weight gain rather than loss during Ramadan?
Yasmine Haddad, Clinical Dietitian at myPediaclinic, DHCC, explains the need for naps during this period. “Not getting enough sleep could increase your appetite and increases fatigue. You can opt for [a] 30-minute nap as they have shown to help your body recharge,” she says.
Farah Hillou, Nutritionist at The Chiron Clinic, adds: “Over-eating, eating quickly, as well as choosing foods and beverages high in sugar in addition to deep-fried foods can contribute to weight gain. Eating frequently and at inconsistent times from the minute fast is broken to suhour time can also lead to weight gain. Lack of movement and spending more time in sedentary activities like watching TV prevents us from expending energy.”
Alkilani adds: “Don’t drink your calories! Avoid juices, sodas, and other sugary drinks, replace them with water.” The calories from sugary drinks can creep up on you.
“Avoid sweets and sugary snacks, or at least limit them to once or twice in a week and always share your dessert,” she adds.
Do this, not that
Hillou offers some tips to prevent weight gain:
• Practise mindful eating during meal times.
• Avoid eating until you are completely full. Instead, aim to eat until you are about 80 per cent full and feel comfortable.
• Avoid constant grazing/eating when you break your fast. Eat at consistent times.
• Plan meals ahead of time.
• Balance your meals out; ideally, half of your plate should be vegetables, one quarter lean protein and the other quarter fiber-rich whole grains.
• Keep hydrated: We often think we are hungry while in reality our body is seeking hydration.
• Rather than deep-frying foods, choose healthier cooking methods like baking, steaming and sauteing.
• Avoid all beverages high in sugar. If you really wish to have some, dilute them significantly with water and have them in very limited amounts occasionally.
• Limit the amount and frequency of consuming sweets/desserts. Use better sweetener options such as dates, apple sauce, monk fruit sweetener, and stevia.
• Keep active. Participate in some form of exercise such as yoga, Pilates, or walking. Leave more strenuous exercise to right before you break your fast or at least 2-3 hours post-Iftar.
What’s the ideal Iftar meal?
Alkilani says: “You should consume healthy balanced diet consisting of all food groups.”
- Fruits and vegetables: Try having 4-5 different colors daily.
- Carbohydrates: Make at least half of your carb intake from complex carbs like oats and whole wheat.
- Protein: Vary your protein options daily.
- Fat: focus on consuming healthy fats like avocado, nuts and olive oil.
She adds: “Don’t forget to stay well hydrated, have a glass or two of water every hour after Iftar. Consuming sugarless herbal teas, milks, fruits and vegetables will add up to your fluid intake.”
Yasmine Haddad, Clinical Dietitian at myPediaclinic, DHCC, says: “Always start with 1-3 dates and water, then a warm soup. Include cooked vegetables or legumes prepared with little vegetable oil and lean meat: trimmed beef, skinless chicken breast and white fish fillet. Make sure to consume complex carbohydrates that provide energy and fibre (whole wheat bread, pasta rice). You can also aim to have a small and healthy Iftar and inspect to have a larger main meal later. Make sure to chew your food and eat very slowly. Practice mindful eating.”
A sample Iftar menu by Haddad
The high temperature warms up the stomach, prepares it for the main meal and helps prevent constipation. It is also rich in nutrients and fluids which are needed for hydration after a long day of fasting.
Main Course: Oriental vegetable rice with chicken.
Use chicken breast without skin as it’s lean meat and is rich in protein.Add vegetable oil such as canola or olive oil as they are rich in good fats (omega 3 and MUFA) to your rice. Rice is quick source of energy and helps regulate blood sugar levels and is rich in B1 in particular basmati rice.
Vegetables are rich in fiber and vitamins and they add nutritional value to your meals.
Desserts: Rice pudding and Mouhalabieh.
These are rich sources of calcium, potassium and protein and help hydrate after a long day of fasting.
Drinks: Kamaruddin (dried apricot juice).
Dried apricots are excellent sources of both potassium and vitamin A that gives it an orange color. It is full of fiber, protein and vitamin C. It can eliminate diarrhea and digestive disorder.