I have been asked about adequate nutrition during Ramadan by a lot of my friends recently.
For those that don’t know, Every year, during the month of Ramadan, it is incumbent upon practicing Muslims to abstain from food and drink during daylight periods and fast. This year, Ramadan starts tomorrow here in the UK and for many people living in places such as Europe, America etc, Ramadan will be tricky due to the long days and hot summer months.
I usually don’t sugar coat things and I won’t sugar coat this. Fasting with no food or liquid for such long periods of times is dangerous 1 however, since it is a sacrifice needed to be made by Muslims. Doing it in the safest manner is probably a good idea.
The biggest problem with fasting during Ramadan is dehydration. Going without food for 17 hours is tough but it’s going without water that will cause most problems. Dehydration symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, constipation, joint and back pains, muscle cramps, dry mouth and lips and a whole host of other issues.
Unfortunately, there’s now getting around the dehydration however, making sure you compensate during the period from sunset to dawn and remain thoroughly hydrated is an incredibly important point to note. Breaking your fast with a glass of water and a date is a tradition of the Prophet Muhammed (Sunnah) so make sure you start with copious amounts of water and keep drinking throughout the night. Keep a topped up bottle with you.
Try to abstain from foods and drinks that cause a diueretic effect such as caffeinated beverages, fizzy sodas, Dandelion tea etc. Coffee drinkers however may suffer a double blow here due to the dreaded caffeine withdrawal symptoms so providing you have extra water, it may help to have a coffee but if you’re not a regular coffee drinker my advice would be to abstain.
Spiking your water with an electrolyte may also be a good idea. You can use store bought electrolyte such as Nuun or you can make your own electrolyte drink using lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt and coconut water.
It is important to try to stay as cool as possible and avoid over excretion as much as possible during the daytime to avoid any unnecessary fluid loss.
There is an excellent article by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition on the effects of fluid restriction during Ramadan that goes into this in much more detail if you are interested! 2
One of the biggest problems I have witnessed during Ramadan is the attitude that once it is time to break your fast, you gorge yourself and challenge your family members to an eating contest made up of a lot of foods that are usually deep fried and bad for you. If anything, during Ramadan, one should opt for as nutrient dense foods as possible. Lots of vegetables and proteins and high quality fats such as olive oils, oily fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil etc. It isn’t easy to get your caloric needs in in such a short space of time but that is not an excuse to binge eat junk.
Caloric dense foods that are ideal include Eggs, Meats, Oily Fish, Nuts, Seeds, Cold pressed oils etc. Salads and vegetables drizzled in olive oils served with some meat, fish or vegetable sources of protein would be great.
Having a protein shake is also a great idea. Making it higher in calories by chucking in some natural peanut butter and making it with whole milk or coconut milk would be ideal during Ramadan too.
The period for being allowed to eat in the UK at least is a very short window of only 6 hours at most which means getting in a good meal every 2 hours.
Research suggests that a diet higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates especially starchy carbohydrates is good for keeping hunger levels lower and feeling more satisfied so if you’ve ever wanted to do a lower carb diet or a Paleo style diet, now would be a good month to start that.
Body Composition, Metabolism and overall health
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re someone who likes to exercise and train and body composition and or athletic ability is important to you. So how does Ramadan effect these things. Firstly, it is a myth that if you miss a meal or two, your body will automatically catabolise muscle tissue. A study on fasted individuals during Ramadan found that whilst body mass dropped, fat free mass did not change. In other words, those that ate less calories than required (which is very possible during Ramadan) lost a small percentage of fat but no change in muscle mass. Metabolism however, was shown to slow down to cope with lower energy levels. 3
Other research has shown that dehydration during fasting increases serum lipid levels (blood fat levels) and lipoprotein levels which are a cause for concern especially for those with high cholestorol. 4
As far as exercise is concerned, with only having a 6 hour window to eat and with such hot conditions during the long summer days, I would strongly advise against any intense exercise during Ramadan. Our Aerobic respiratory system relies mostly on fat for energy and not glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrates in our muscles) so if you do want to do some exercise, short, low intensity aerobic exercise is probably best and to be done later on in the day closer to Iftar (a short and very mild run perhaps but anything more intense than that and your performance will severely be impaired and you will struggle)
– Try to keep as cool during the day as possible
– Do not Over exert yourself during the day
– Making sure you have a nutrient dense diet and adequately hydrate yourself during the periods between Iftar (Sunset) and Suhr (Sunrise)
– Try to avoid Caffeinated beverages
– Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of protein – A protein shake will help
– Don’t worry about calories – Eat nutritious and calorie dense foods such as those listed above.
– Avoid junk foods, deep fried foods and foods that are devoid of nutrition. After fasting your body is Screaming for nutrients!
– Drink an electrolyte drink to replenish lost electrolytes
– Supplement with a good mutli vitamin too!
1. Adverse Effects of Fasting in Islam – WikiIslam
2. Effects on health of fluid restriction during fasting in Ramadan – J B Leiper1, A M Molla2 and A M Molla3
3. Body composition and energy metabolism in resting and exercising Muslims during Ramadan – Sweileh N, Schnitzler A, Hunter GR, Davis B.
4. Dehydration during fasting increases serum lipids and lipoproteins. – Campbell NR, Wickert W, Magner P, Shumak SL.