Many people, including athletes, suddenly change their diet during the Holy Month of Ramadan, which may lead to some digestive disorders that can affect athletic performance.

Nutrition experts at Aspetar, the orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, have developed a set of ‘golden rules’ on how best to combine physical activity with a balanced diet in order to help people maintain a healthy and active lifestyle during Ramadan. They have also developed tips on ensuring that Iftar and Suhoor meals provide the necessary energy boost over a sustained period of time.

Blessing in Suhoor (Prophetic Hadith) 

Suhoor or predawn meal is the main energy source throughout the day for people fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Aspetar experts suggest that the Suhoor meal should ideally be light and easy to digest, consisting of food groups that release energy slowly, like carbohydrates, proteins, fibres as well as important minerals such as potassium. Experts also recommend milk or yogurt, as both are key source of protein and vitamins, and an ideal alternative to soft drinks and artificially sweetened juices. The Suhoor meal should also include vegetables or fruits as well as beans, lentils or eggs, served with whole grain bread since such foods sustain blood sugar levels for longer periods.

Divide your Iftar According to Aspetar experts, people who are fasting should divide their Iftar meal into two phases. Phase one should consist of dates, a glass of water, milk or a small bowl of soup, to ‘alert’ the digestive system. It should then be followed by a 15-minute break, after which food for the second phase should be served. Food for the second phase should have some vegetables, the main course should contain protein (meat) with legumes, plus carbohydrates such as bread, rice or potatoes. One of the benefits of dividing one’s Iftar meal into two phases is that it prepares the digestive system to produce enzymes and helps control the amount of food eaten, minimising the risk of gastric disorders after a long day of fasting.

Fasting Without Exercise Recent research has shown that fasting for 30 days without doing any physical activity may decrease one’s physical strength and can also contribute to digestive problems. The ideal recommendation is to exercise for at least 10 to 30 minutes daily, either before Iftar for people without any health problems, or three hours after the Iftar meal.

Optimal Benefit from Exercise Consuming a large meal can undermine the benefits of exercise since as much as 15% of one’s energy is diverted to food digestion and absorption. That is why experts recommend that people exercise at least three hours after any meal. Aspetar experts also recommend that athletes exercise gradually, starting with warm-up exercises and stretches followed by some aerobic and strength training and followed by a cool-down at the end of any session. According to experts, training intensity should range from light to medium dependent on one’s level of fitness.

Training Intensity Determines Diet Aspetar experts say that the type of sport one practices should define one’s diet. For example, athletes who engage in team sports should divide their meals into smaller portions. They should eat light meals after matches or training sessions for energy. Athletes can always consult their nutritionist to calculate the right balance of proteins, carbs and minerals they need depending on the intensity and duration of their training programme.

Healthy Ramadan Campaign

Aspetar has recently launched a new ‘Healthy Ramadan’ campaign to increase awareness on the importance of adopting an active and healthy lifestyle during the Holy Month, promote physical activity among community members in Qatar as well as professional and recreational athletes alike. Running throughout Ramadan, these tips and suggestions will be shared via Aspetar’s official social media channels including Facebook and Instagram’s ‘Story’ feature, as well as the hospital’s official YouTube channel.