A healthy Ramadan - 7 questions to Victoria Sardain, wellness coach and consultant

If you follow me on my Instagram channel, you probably saw my stories spending time at Beat Fitness. It's a fitness studio near Lausanne gare, which offers cardio, core & strength class through spinning RIDE, high-intensity interval training HIIT, yoga FLOW or pilates BARRE for a full-body workout in just 45 minutes. What get's me going there? The fusion of the playlists and the positive instructors that really gets the best of you. One of them being Victoria Sardain, a wellness coach and consultant. As the holy month of Ramadan started yesterday I asked Victoria 7 questions on how to stay fit and healthy, mixing work-outs and nutrition and not eating and drinking from before sunset "suhour: breakfast" until sunrise time "iftar: meal" time. 

1) Victoria, fasting has been trendy these past few years in wellness. What are the benefits of a fast? 

Intermitted fasting has become increasingly popular lately as more and more scientifically-backed research is proving its benefits. These benefits may include: improved blood sugar control, regeneration of immune cells, decreased levels of inflammation in the body and decreased blood pressure. What's important to note is that many of these studies have proved that the benefits of intermitted fasting are close to those of simply decreasing caloric intake. It is therefore important to not entirely over-indulge and over-eat between suhour and iftar. 

2) In most muslim household, the tradition consists of eating three dishes. Soup, salad and a main meal with carbs and proteins. If you add the dessert part, often unhealthy choices are made and specially, late at night. What would you recommend when we can break the fast at 9:30 pm? 

The most important thing is to drink a lot of water before eating. We often confuse thirst for hunger, and believe that we are hungrier then we really are when we are dehydrated. Have a 1L bottle of water ready, and try finish the bottle of water before eating. Dates are another great way to break your fast as they give you energy and are easily digested, however be conscious when eating these "natural candies", and try stick to 2-3 dates at a time. When you begin to eat, think about having liquid food to rehydrate at the same time. Beverages such as milk, smoothies made with a mix of fruits, vegetables and seeds or vegetable soup are great ways to rehydrate while getting in protein and nutrients. 

3) What would you recommend for "suhour" time? 

Complex carbohydrates such as oats, lentils, chickpeas and brown rice are a great way to keep your body fuelled for the day. A great sweet breakfast would be oats cooked in milk or water with fruit and nuts. A great savoury option would be lentils with vegetables and rice. If you're choosing a savoury dish, make sure you don't add too much salt as salt will make you thirsty. Instead, season with spices and herbs. Avoid caffeinated beverages as they can lead to dehydration. 

4) Could you give us an example a weekly plan of different workouts at Beat Fitness?

The most important thing to remember when exercising during Ramadan is to listen to your body. If you're starting to feel very tired or light-headed during a class, simply slow down, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Never put pressure on yourself to perform the same way you have when you weren't fasting. There may be days where you struggle to keep up, and there may be days where you have even more energy than before Ramadan, simply listen to your body and go with the flow! The best times to workout are either right after "suhour" (when you're body is full of energy) or just before "iftar" (as you'll be able to properly refuel after your workout). Try avoid high-intensity exercise mid-day. 
The first week of Ramadan might be a bit more difficult as your body is getting used to fasting, I would therefore recommend doing only 1-2 workouts in the first week. 
Once you're feeling a little bit more comfortable with the fasting, you can increase to what you were used to pre-Ramadan. Never exceed the amount of exercise you were doing before Ramadan as this can be a shock to your body.

A healthy week of exercise during Ramadan would be the following: 

  • 1 lunchtime FLOW class
  • 1 evening HIIT class
  • 1 evening RIDE class

5) How to assure effective hydratation? Is there a risk to do a HIIT workout during fasting hours?

I would recommend doing high-intensity exercise only in the evening, that way you can rehydrate soon after your workout. We have late evening classes that finish at 20:15, therefore by the time you get home and shower, you're ready to break fast and refuel. Once again, the most important is to be really in tune to your body. Listen to every single sign your body is giving you, and take them seriously. If you start getting very hot, sweating profusely, feeling light-headed or very tired in HIIT class, simply step to the side, and take a few deep breaths. We have an open, no-judgment culture at the studio. All levels are welcome, so don't feel shy to take a break if needed. Make sure you tell the instructor before starting the class that you are following Ramadan so that they can be aware of what's happening if you step to the side. If you listen to your body, notice every sign and take appropriate action, there is little risk. 

6) In your latest workshop, you talk about consistency and good habits. It's for me, during social situation that it's hard to avoid binging. Specially that Ramadan is a very social month where there are a lot of invitations at families and friends. How do you stay strong and not overindulge?

In the context of Ramadan, the most important is to drink lots and lots of water. Drink first - eat after. In a more general context, I think the key is going slowly. We tend to overindulge when we eat quickly, as we don't realize that we've over-eaten until it's too late. Small practices such as consciously chewing your food, putting your spoon down between every bite, remembering to stop and breath during your meal can help. Move away from the "must eat everything now" mentality, and focus on one plate at a time. When you're finished your plate, give yourself a little break, listen to your body and ask yourself "how do I feel? Am I still hungry right now or do I want to wait a bit before my next plate?" Being ready before-hand is also key. Prepare lower-calorie options such as vegetable soup and cooked vegetables, and think about eating these foods first. 

7) Lastly, what general advice would you give to a person who's fasting?

Take this as a time to really tune-in and listen to your body. Our body tells us everything we would ever need to know. Listen to your body throughout the day; if you're feeling tired close your eyes, tune-in and try to understand if you need a nap or if you just need a walk in fresh air. When exercising, let your body give you signs if it needs to take a break. When you're eating, let your body tell you if you're still hungry, if another plate of food would really serve you, or would just make you feel too full. 

One last point: this is a month to celebrate and enjoy. The stress you feel from over-eating or taking a few days off exercise is a lot worse than anything else. Enjoy the company, enjoy the food and enjoy the process. Happy Ramadan! 

Thank you so much Victoria Sardain for your meaningful answers and advices. Happy Ramadan and if you would like to try three free classes at Beat Fitness, click here!