• James Heagney, Head Coach at D5 Gym in Dubai, offers a few tips for ensuring adequate nutrition and continued well-being when fasting

    Observing a sixteen-hour fast can at first invoke many difficulties in balancing daily nutrition and hydration.

    However, it can be used to your advantage from a body composition perspective, depending on the food choices you make. Intermittent fasting is a popular nutritional strategy adopted by many people around the world looking to reduce body fat.

    This style of eating fits perfectly into timings for Ramadan in the Middle East. The 16-hour fast, eight hour feeding routine is the exact guideline for intermittent fasting.

    The key to your success comes down to your mindset. The eight hours of food consumption should be looked at as nourishing your body and providing it with high quality, nutritionally dense foods that help to repair and restore.

    The 16 hours of fasting is a perfect opportunity to rest your digestive system, allow your liver to detoxify and provide an environment to activate your parasympathetic nervous system with prayer and meditation.

    BREAKING THE FAST

    Breaking your fast will have long-standing family and cultural traditions but can still be modified for optimised health. I would recommend you remember not to overload your digestive system, and slowly bring your body out of its fasted state. It is important to stabilise your blood sugar levels, and not create a blood sugar rollercoaster that will result in a huge over-consumption of food later.

    Rehydrate with water and coconut water as this provides a nice supply of minerals and electrolytes while minimising simple sugars. Remember your body does not need sugar. Yes, it will be craving it, but you can survive very easily without simple refined sugars (your body doesn’t physiologically need it).

    Keeping with cultural traditions, dates are a great way to break your fast. Adding a large handful of mixed raw nuts will also help to stabilise your blood sugar levels. This creates an environment that is less likely to increase heightened cravings, because your blood sugar levels are balanced.

    EXERCISE AND NON-EXERCISE BREAKING FAST NUTRITION

    If you are breaking the fast and not immediately exercising (within 10-20 mins) the following is a good plan:

    4-6 dates
    Handful of raw nuts of your choice Water

    If you are going to exercise immediately after iftar then this is good:

    A handful of dates
    400-750ml of water and coconut water combined
    10g of essential amino acids

    What I don't promote is the consumption of fruit juices, especially orange, pineapple and apple. They are loaded with sugars and don’t provide the nutritional support like their fresh counterparts. Also, processed, fried foods, pastries and breads aren’t great as they cause inflammation.

    THE MAIN IFTAR MEAL

    Try and approach the main iftar meal as any normal meal or daily food intake. If your daily intake of calories is higher than your expenditure, then you will gain weight (body fat). If you are in a calorie defcit, then you will most likely drop body fat.

    If you are not exercising then you do not require as much food, so you should take this into consideration. Your metabolism is bolstered by activity, so with less activity comes fewer calories needed.

    I would recommend that your main meal of the day should be flled with fresh foods. Grilled or roasted meat in plentiful amounts with large salads, greens, and as many colourful vegetables as possible. Take light proteins such as eggs, white fsh, seafood, chicken and turkey.

    The things I would suggest removing from your meal are: breads, pastries, fruit juices, fried foods, soft drinks and sweets. These items will move you further away from your body composition goals. It is okay to treat yourself if you have stuck to your nutritional rules for the previous few days – a small portion of your favourite desert is not a problem.

    It’s all about balance and moving closer toward your goal, and aligning your personal choices with them. If it fts in, then proceed, if it moves you further away, then abstain.

    SUHOOR

    Awaking just before the sun rises is an excellent way to provide supportive nutrition and hydration for your body. Typically, you might be feeling tired, not very hungry, and wish to go back to bed for a few hours. This is when liquid nutrition is the most effective.

    A drink/shake is made best when including protein, good fats, fbre and water. This provides your body with a well-balanced nutrient intake. I strongly encourage you to include good fats and fbre, not just protein in your shake. This will exit your stomach at a fast rate, causing a slow release of nutrients that keeps your blood sugar levels nice and constant.

    HYDRATION

    The often overlooked most essential component of successful fasting – water, water and more water. Look to rehydrate your body as frequently as possible to keep all bodily functions running smoothly.