Fasting Tips: Staying Power
Understand how fasting affects our body in order to maximise on our days. By Agnes Chang.
It’s now more than halfway through Ramadhan. We abstain from food and drink during daylight hours and overcome physical, spiritual and mental challenges on a daily basis. Working professionals can’t afford to rest on their laurels, though. They have to stay ahead of their game in order to stay focused and deliver their tasks.
Like other Muslims around the world, Hayati Mansour fasts during Ramadhan. But for the 30-year-old fitness trainer, working out more than four hours a day on an empty stomach proved to be too much during one Ramadhan. After a tortuous week at work, Hayati attempted to replenish her energy levels by taking longer rest periods while on duty. Two weeks later, her employers asked her to leave. Her lack of energy was cited as detrimental to their business and demotivating to their clients.
To white-collar professionals with established track records and stable careers, this scenario may seem highly unlikely. However, it pays to be aware of the little pitfalls present in the workplace during the fasting month to avoid jeopardising a job. Staying competent and efficient during Ramadhan is easier with some simple adjustments to your nutritional intake and physical activity levels.
Contrary to what many people believe, many experts agree that fasting alone does not impede the performance of daily duties and activities. According to Dr Chiam Tut Fu, a sports medicine physician at SportMed Central at Novena Medical Centre in Singapore, it is rare for people to face a significant loss of alertness when fasting. This is because at the start of a fast, the body will start ingesting and absorbing residual nutrients available in the digestive tract. This is followed by glycogen (stored glucose) in the liver, and, finally, the muscles. It takes an average of between 12 to 15 hours before these reserves dwindle.
The first few days of fasting may be challenging for some, but the body will adjust itself after the fourth day
Our bodies can get used to a fasting state or a change in meal times relatively quickly. The first few days of fasting may be challenging for some, but the body will adjust itself after the fourth day. ‘Half a day is not a long time for fasting and there should be no appreciable decline in mental capacity,’ states Dr Chiam.
Muslimah Salsabil Sata, a 33-year-old paralegal from Singapore, feels more alert during the fasting month compared to normal days, because a heavy stomach tends to make her feel sleepy. ‘To stay focused and alert throughout the day, I make sure to have a sufficient intake during the pre-dawn (sahur) meals.’
Dr Chiam thinks that there is inadequate evidence for the claim that people put on weight during the fasting month. In fact, most experience at least some weight loss. ‘The total caloric intake each day is now reduced during the fasting month, and there is a limit to how much one can eat when breaking fast.’
A careful selection of food that provides a lasting source of energy is important during sahur. Dr Ria Pratiwi of Panti Nirmala hospital in Malang, East Java, advises those who fast to choose food that has a well-balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Brown rice is a suitable replacement for white rice because it is high in fibre. However, foods high in sugar, such as glutinous rice, coconut milk, and spicy and sour food, stimulate excessive production of hydrochloric acid (gastric acid) and should be avoided.
Sufficient water intake – two glasses when breaking fast, four glasses during the night, and two glasses during sahur – should be practised. When breaking fast, it is also recommended to eat in stages and in small portions, so that the intestines and digestion can function better.
Keeping physically fit is another key factor in helping muslimahs stay mentally alert during Ramadhan. ‘Exercise helps stimulate blood circulation, bringing more oxygen supply into our bloodstream, and light exercises such as light jogging, power walks or yoga for 15 to 30 minutes are highly recommended during this period. Ideally, Muslimahs should work out at least one to two hours before iftar or after sahur,’ says Dr Pratiwi.
Salsabil is also a firm believer in doing some physical activity during the fasting period. ‘I usually alight a few train stations away and walk home briskly. Even the salat we perform is a form of exercise.’
Asma Ishaque, a 39-year-old freelance home stager based in California, is happiest during Ramadhan. She sees it as her moment of reaching optimal physical wellbeing. ‘Ramadhan is truly a blessing in disguise. I actually lose weight due to fasting. The big payoff comes when I am five pounds lighter and feeling fabulous in my new dress on Eid!’