Staying fit and healthy during Ramadan

Muslim family eating during Ramadan
The pre-dawn and post-sunset meals are traditionally large, and eaten with loved ones. Photo credit: Getty

The Islamic month of Ramadan starts this week, with Muslims around the world abstaining from food and drink between sunrise and sunset for 30 days.

There are now around 50,000 Muslims living in New Zealand, including well-known athletes like Sonny Bill Williams. Many express the difficulties in staying fit in healthy during the fasting period.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, unable to drink even a glass of water. 

UK doctor Ranj Singh told the BBC he suggested three key principles for those trying to stay healthy during Ramadan: eat and drink the right things during non-fasting hours, do light exercise and make sure you get enough sleep. Dr Singh said sleep should be prioritised just as much as your diet during Ramadan.

"There is evidence that people who sleep better tend to eat and snack less during the day, so a good night's sleep may help you control your cravings when fasting," he said.

When it comes to exercise, he recommends brisk walking, gentle jogs and other light aerobic workouts, but said it was important to time them correctly and not go too hard. 

"Many people will find it easier to work out when they get up in the morning before dawn - that way they have had a chance to build their energy stores overnight," he said. 

"Keep yourself fit and healthy, but don't overdo it as you could make yourself unwell."

Just as breakfast is known as the most important meal of the day, the 'suhoor' (the meal eaten before dawn) is equally important during Ramadan. The pre-dawn meal helps your body stay hydrated and fuelled up on energy and nutrients until your next meal at 'iftar' (the evening meal). 

Avoid heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour, as well as fatty foods like Ramadan desserts. They are high in fat and low in nutrients.

Before the fasting period, the New Zealand Muslim Sports Association offered some advice on their Facebook page about how athletes can cope better with the month-long undertaking.

 "Some of us think we will suddenly be ready when Ramadan starts, but planning will make the transition a lot easier," the post read. 

They recommended that it was easier to avoid snacking and simply get used to eating two main meals, never skipping suhoor.