Five Suhoor And Iftar Tips To Fuel Your Ramadan Workout
Mr Mo Salah during a training session at AXA Training Centre, Kirkby, England. Photograph by Mr Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Ask any fitness trainer or nutritionist about successful exercise and they’ll delight in telling you about the food-to-fitness split. Now taken as an immutable law of the gym, it goes something like this: food is everything. It matters not how much you lift, how far you run or how low you squat – without effective nutrition it’s all for nought. So, just what does that mean if you’re currently observing Ramadan and in the throes of a four-week sunrise-to-sunset fast?
Let’s be clear, having just two sittings for food and drink each day makes things difficult, but working out during Ramadan is not impossible. Athletes such as Liverpool’s Mr Mohamed Salah and Mr Enes Kanter of the Portland Trail Blazers observe the holy month of Ramadan and still perform at the highest level. This might be cold comfort when you’re tired, hungry and the squat rack has turned into a giant pizza slice before your eyes, but ultimately, your success lies in planning. Eat smart and there’s every chance your six-pack will survive until Eid. Here are five refuelling tips to put fire in your workout.
Get up early
Eating before sunrise can be tough, but the most important meal of the day needs attention. “Scrambled eggs on brown bread brushed with almond butter will offer the protein, vitamins and minerals you need to keep going,” explains Ms Lina Shibib, a clinical nutritionist at Medcare Hospitals and Clinics in Dubai. However, eating early can seriously dent your appetite. If you’d rather maximise time in bed, Shibib advises smart Suhoor snacking. “Try nuts, fruits and vegetables. These are rich in minerals and vitamins – and the fruit and veg can help you stay hydrated, too.”
Go easy on the iftar
If you’d prefer to hit the gym after work then you’ll have to box clever with what you eat. This means going easy on the post-workout iftar [the sunset meal]. “Avoid having one big meal and eating it quickly, as it’ll make you feel full and sluggish,” says Mr Emile Zarife, a Dubai-based fitness influencer and founder of the Arabic fitness and fashion platform, anasharqi.com. “Start with a small meal like dates, soup and a portion of wholegrain carbs to refuel. After the gym you should eat lean proteins, ideally white fish, grilled chicken and a combination of whole-grain carbs with veg, then raw nuts for snacking.” Mr Alex White, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation agrees. “The protein and starchy carbs will help you recover and refuel during iftar after your workout. But avoid fatty or fried foods as they’ll make it tough to sleep.”
Embrace the beans
If you follow a vegan diet, which eschews protein-rich meat and fish, and are concerned that you’re now facing a small window of refuelling, too, then you should relax. “The same principles of healthy eating apply when you’re a vegan,” says White. “The goal remains to get the right amount of carbs and proteins to fuel your workout and recovery. While carbs naturally come from plant sources, you’ll get your protein hit from beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and specific products such as vegan mince. Although there’s a chance you might struggle for energy – plant-derived foods tend to be lower in calories – carefully planned meals should ensure you get everything you need for the gym and beyond.”
Max out your hydration
While your body should eventually acclimatise to the two main food sittings of the day, shunning water during the hours of daylight might actually feel a little more difficult. “Aim for around 2.5 litres from your Suhoor and iftar water breaks,” recommends Zarife. “After that, choose food with a high water content. Try a salad packed with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers at iftar, or blend a smoothie with hydrating ingredients such as watermelon or strawberries. Personally, I recommend a banana and date smoothie for Suhoor.” But while staying hydrated will help maintain function and form at the gym, it’s also vital for your overall health. “Water contributes to regular bowel function and optimal muscle performance,” adds Shibib. “Failing to drink enough, especially during Ramadan, can cause serious dehydration and adverse symptoms including fatigue, headache, weakened immunity and kidney problems.”
Mind your snacks
Finally, while your Ramadan diet should focus on the food to help you power through the fast and keep lifting heavy, you should also note the snacks that could put a dent in your plans. OK, it’s not rocket science, but it’s good to acquaint yourself with the enemy. “Fizzy and processed soft drinks should be avoided,” says Zarife. “Anything salty will make you dehydrated, while coffee can lead to a bad night’s sleep, restlessness and a real longing for water the next day. Try to avoid sweets and chocolate, too. That last one might be difficult – this is Ramadan after all – so just enjoy them in moderation.”