Today, March the 15th marks the first day of the 2018 Ramadan. The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and for many Muslims across the world it represents a fasting period, where no food or drink is consumed during daylight hours for 29-30 days. Generally, daily meals are consumed at two main sittings:
The Sahoor or Sehri right before dawn
The Iftar after sunset (the break of the day’s fast).
How does fasting affect the body?
During the fasting hours, the body slowly uses up all the calories from the foods consumed during the night and consequently uses carbohydrates from the liver and muscle stores, as well as fat, in order to provide the extra energy required for the rest of the day. After the fasting is broken, the body can regain energy from the foods and drinks consumed, but special attention should be given to the type and quantity of those foods due to the limitation of available “recovery and refuelling” time.
Moreover, the body cannot store excessive water and also cannot avoid losing some water in urine, through the skin and when breathing, if the weather is warm. That leads most people who fast during Ramadan into experiencing mild dehydration, which may be expressed by symptoms such as headache, tiredness and lack of concentration. Most studies conclude that this is generally not harmful to health, as long as the fluids consumed after breaking are sufficient to replace the amount lost during the day.
How can Ramadan affect your training?
Research has shown that during Ramadan, exercise performance could be affected due to energy and nutrient restriction, dehydration, alterations in the sleeping pattern and in the training load. The specific impact, however, may not be detrimental if the training load, total energy and macronutrient intake, sleeping time and body composition are maintained.
Usually, the most significant implications of the Ramadan fasting are reported during the first week of the fasting, so make sure to plan ahead and gradually introduce the following strategies one to two weeks prior the start of the Ramadan.
Maintaining the training load
For heavy training like heavy weightlifting or prolonged aerobic exercise sessions, these should be scheduled either close to the time of breaking fast or after the break, so that you have the time to refuel and rehydrate yourself immediately after your exercise. If you are planning a moderate intensity training lasting less than 45 minutes, you could also consider the option of exercising immediately after your last meal before the start of the fasting (Sahoor). Lastly, if your training consists mostly of light intensity or technical exercises, these can be carried out at your usual time.
1. The Sahoor meal
Try to consume this as late as possible, within the rules of fasting, in order to remain fasted for the shortest period of time during the day. The Sahoor meal should consist of low-glycemic index carbohydrate-rich foods such as wholemeal bread or pasta, basmati rice, legumes or sweet potato. Make sure you combine it with a good quality sustained protein source such as milk, yoghurt or cottage cheese, which are slower digested and can keep you fuelled for a longer time.
Don’t forget to consume enough fluids in order to prevent getting dehydrated during the day. Also, avoid consuming too salty (high in sodium) foods or large caffeine intake (even from tea) as this may increase your water losses and increase the risk of dehydration.
Some examples for the Sahoor meal would be oatmeal with low fat yoghurt, nuts and dried fruits or scrambled eggs with low fat cheese, vegetables, chicken/turkey combined with wholemea
toasted bread and a fresh orange juice. Supplements such as l-carnitine have also been used during this meal in order to transport and metabolise fat faster, therefore providing potentially more energy to the body during the day, however further research is needed to support that claim.
2. The Iftar meal
Break your fasting gradually, focusing on the consumption of sufficient fluids to rehydrate yourself, carbohydrates to replenish your liver and muscle stores and high quality protein to prevent muscle mass loss.
Start by eating a few dates with a large glass of water, followed by a vegetable and chicken soup with some pita bread or naan. Additional salt or sodium containing foods like stockings could be used at this meal. If you are training during the evening, might be best to consume a smaller amount of food during this meal (or even consider a protein based smoothie or shake if your time schedule is extremely tight) and leave about an hour post meal before exercising, to avoid any gastrointestinal disturbances.
After your training or as a second meal closer to bedtime you can consume a mild chicken curry with rice or flat bread or pasta with tuna or chicken or a turkey and low fat cheese sandwich, followed by a small fruit salad and some milk.
A sports dietitian is the right person to be contacted for diet consultation and planning of a more individualised strategy- contact HP Nutrition here
Sleep deprivation can also have a significant impact on performance. Try to maximise your sleep length as far as your schedule allows it, and consider adding regular daytime naps. Supplements containing magnesium or some form of serotonine could potentially be used for sleep aid. Also, try to avoid having a large meal or one that consists of fatty or fried foods too close to sleeping, as this might also delay your sleeping time.