I am an occupational therapist, CrossFit coach and a personal trainer from Australia based in Abu Dhabi.
My goal as a coach here in the UAE is to inspire people to start exercising for the first time and to live a healthier lifestyle through farming good daily habits in nutrition, sleep and stress management. I used to compete in weight-lifting and experienced some pretty brutal weight cuts so nutrition is a huge passion for me.
I am now on a quest to find the most sustainable diet that allows me to live happily and not feel restricted in any way. Ramadan is fast-approaching, so I wanted to share with you some tips on nutrition and training to help you and your family stay healthy during this time.
- Food Types
It is important that your Iftar and Suhoor meals meet your body’s nutritional needs. You need a certain amount of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats) and adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). These are required to sustain your body and create ideal conditions for bodily processes to function properly.
Protein helps build and repair tissue, basically allowing the muscles to recover after exercise and build muscle mass. Carbs are the body’s main source of energy and fuel and healthy fats are vital for long-lasting satiation and hormone regulation. The amount each person needs depends on many factors: age, body weight, how much they exercise and how intensely, the demands of their job and much more. Vitamins and minerals are vital for maintaining a fully functioning system and preventing illness and they become even more important during Ramadan. They are found in most foods, but they are particularly abundant in vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds.
Sip frequently on water between meals, rather than glugging large amounts of fluid all in one go. Stay clear of store-bought fruit juice and soft drinks. Try making your own fruit juice at home – that way you know there’s nothing extra added. I know you all love your coffee, but be aware that it causes dehydration.
- Eat Slowly
How many times have you sat down for a meal and before you know it, you’ve cleaned your plate?
Slow down, take a breath and enjoy your food. Putting your body in a parasympathetic state before you start eating is so important for food absorption and digestion. Without appropriate absorption or digestion, most of the calories from the food you eat will be stored as fat in the body. However, when these processes are working properly these calories will be used appropriately. As you sit down for a meal, try taking 10 slow, deep breaths before you start eating. You will be amazed how different you feel after this. You probably never realized how much you needed to slow down.
This is an important one, as the Ramadan lifestyle interferes with sleep greatly. Despite the interference, it is important to follow our body’s natural Circadian Rhythm where possible. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day will assist in hormone regulation, ultimately assisting in weight loss and muscle gain. This may mean having a nap straight after work, hitting the gym, going home for Iftar and then getting the rest of your sleep hours through the night when possible. Establish a sleep routine and stick with it throughout the entire month, aiming to reach a total of seven hours every night.
Stress plays a huge role in our body’s response to nutrition, so sticking to a strict diet can be counterproductive for some people. This is why I will always promote sticking to a well-balanced diet that works for you, not that influencer you saw on Youtube eating 1,000 calories a day. You only have one body for the rest of your life so be smart with your nutrition.
The answer on whether to train pre- or post-Iftar is completely up to you. This is 100 percent down to personal preference as it depends on your particular circumstances. Here are some pros and cons for both:
- Allows more time for sleep, eating and gatherings after Iftar
- Eating a healthy meal within one or two hours of finishing a workout will help with recovery
- You are dehydrated and may risk injury
- You may lack energy – another injury risk
- As you are hydrated there is less risk of injury and you can can now perform higher skill movements
- You have more energy to train
- You are potentially digging into sleep hours by training late at night
- Some people feel tired and lethargic after eating, also known as a ‘food coma’
- Daily Habits
Making huge changes to your diet all at once won’t last long, so the best way to actually stick to a new way of eating is to make small changes in your daily life.
Something as simple as drinking a glass of water with lemon upon waking, or going for a 10-minute walk every day at lunch time, can make a huge change to your overall health. So choose two to three new daily habits you want to try and stick to them for the month of Ramadan. Soon enough, they will become a natural part of your daily routine.
- If you are interested in learning about these topics in more depth, check out Maddy Black’s 32 page e-book, which sells for Dh205. It includes meal plans for both men and women and many other resources to help you have a healthy Ramadan.
Maddy Black is an occupational therapist, CrossFit coach and personal trainer from Australia based in Abu Dhabi.