Time Out Kids UAE

Sport & outdoor

Expert advice about family nutrition and exercise during Ramadan


WHEN MUSLIM CHILDREN reach puberty, they are expected to fast during the month of Ramadan, meaning a lot of teens in secondary school are fasting during term time.

In addition, each year we hear about children under 14 taking the decision to fast, perhaps because they want to experience what their family is going through. And there are even those non-Muslim children who fast because they simply want to support their Muslim friends.

If children are fasting at school, it’s important to make sure they are doing it safely and healthily in terms of nutrition and physical education.

Head of sports performanc­e at Dubai College, Justin Walsh, gives his expert advice to help anyone who is thinking of fasting during Ramadan.

Health implicatio­ns of fasting

“Not eating or drinking during daylight hours can naturally have various health implicatio­ns such as dehydratio­n, lethargy and loss of sleep, which subsequent­ly greatly affects our ability to exercise and play sport due to lack of fuel in the body,” says Walsh.

“Practices such as intermitte­nt fasting have been popularise­d massively over recent years with various health benefits suggested. However, with Ramadan feeding habits become purely nocturnal, in comparison to intermitte­nt fasting where an individual may just be asleep for a number of hours and delay their morning meal. The dramatic change in feeding habits can often cause big changes to sleeping patterns, which for a lot of individual­s this can be more detrimenta­l to their health than anything else,” he explains.

“Additional­ly, with fasting the body will have limited stores of nutrients during the day, which can make our normal sporting and exercise routines difficult to maintain.

For most individual­s who have a stringent exercise or sporting routine, I would always encourage them to see Ramadan as a time to just maintain what they have achieved. Try not

“If children are fasting at school make sure they do it safely”

to set massive weight loss goals, or to target building strength as the body is undergoing enough physical and mental stress as it is.”

Safe exercise

However, Walsh is quick to point out that the health implicatio­ns don’t mean you can’t exercise.

“During Ramadan the best advice regarding exercise is to decrease the volume and intensity of training and play due to the reduced fuel stores in the body. For kids, it is especially important to still play and exercise,” he says.

Walsh says when it comes to physical activity, it’s better to stick to less intense

bouts of exercise or play with plenty of rest times.

“Cardiovasc­ular exercise in the form of long walks or bike rides would also be recommende­d as opposed to high intensity interval training (HIIT) which will put undue stress on the glucose availabili­ty in the body,” he suggests.

“This can all be done very safely in the hour or so leading up to iftar at which point they are able to replenish any stores as soon as they break their fast. Alternativ­ely, they can exercise just after iftar when they have already had a small amount of food and water. Before suhoor, when the body has had its stocks replenishe­d, would also work, but this can be inconvenie­nt due to children’s bed times, which could lead to a further negative effect on already alien sleeping patterns.”

Nutrition and hydration

It is very important to prioritise good, quality food and I would suggest supplement­ing water with hydration fluids and salts in order to keep the body functionin­g optimally. Try and eat whole foods and a good balance of protein, carbohydra­te and fats and avoid processed meals. For suhoor target slow-release carbohydra­te foods such as oats in order to sustain body function throughout the day.

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