How to eat well for your exams during Ramadan
Ramadan has fallen over the exams period again and will continue to do so until at least 2021, depending on when your exams start.
During Ramadan 2019, fasts will last for more than 18 hours on some days, so it is crucial to make smart food choices. We asked experienced students (and a proper dietitian) for advice on managing your exams during Ramadan.
"Ramadan is undoubtedly my favourite time of the year, but fasting away from home for the first time is hard. I sat exams during Ramadan last year, which at first seemed extremely daunting, but thankfully didn’t turn out as bad as I expected,' says Hiba from Oxford University.
"These are my top five tips for sitting exams during Ramadan:
- Eat healthily and eat what you enjoy! For me, Suhoor is generally a lighter meal, often consisting of milk, cereals and toast. Iftar normally consists of dates and nuts, fruit salad, various deep-fried foods such as samosas and pakoras and my favourite drink – Rooh Afza – which is like a rose cordial.
- Drink water regularly between Iftar and Suhoor instead of chugging down an entire bottle just before dawn – this ensures you’re better hydrated throughout the day.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep! Get at least seven to eight hours sleep in the nights leading up to exams – a tired mind can’t do much.
- If you’re concerned that fasting may significantly affect your grades, talk to your tutors. Most universities are very accommodating. Also remember Allah is the Most Gracious, the Most Kind, so if nothing seems to be working out, you are allowed to skip fasts on the days you have exams and make up for them later."
Don't eat too much
"I like to keep food really light and simple during Ramadan," says Sahar from the University of Birmingham.
"Spending the whole of Ramadan at university will mean that Iftar is likely to be quite different each day, when breaking the fast with other Muslims on campus. Even though the fast should be broken with dates and water, some days Iftar may be Asian food, other days it may be Arab, Somali or Nigerian food. I happen to be completely incompetent when it comes to cooking, so I am very thankful for this.
"My biggest tip for taking exams during Ramadan is to eat healthily, but don’t make the mistake of eating too much! By eating a normal meal at Iftar and something light at Suhoor, as well as staying hydrated, you’ll feel ready to tackle any exam!"
Meal prep is key
Kam, from University College London, has three top tips:
- "Shopping in bulk will make life easier. The last thing you want is to be wandering around a supermarket hungry.
- "I find oatmeal and fruit to be best during Suhoor as it's a quick, easy, healthy and filling meal. The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) recommends a Suhoor full of fluids, complex carbohydrates, protein and fibre and to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- "Plan your Iftar in advance to make your days more efficient. Taking away daily decisions will free you up to concentrate on your work."
Stay healthy and reduce stress
"Living away from home can be challenging as a student and even more so in the month of Ramadan," says Shamshad Shah, a consultant dietitian.
"Here are my 5 top tips to help you achieve a stress-free and healthier month of Ramadan.
- "The Suhoor meal should aim to provide sustainable energy levels for the day. Aim to eat a quick, light, nutrient-rich meal. Some recipe ideas are overnight oats or porridge with a sprinkle of fruits, nuts and seeds. These have a low Glycaemic Index to help you stay fuller for longer. Oat and egg-based recipes are also high in protein. Avoid sugary drinks, breakfast cereals and cereal bars (containing more than 20g of sugar per 100g), which offer quick bursts of energy but leave you feeling hungry when blood sugar levels fall.
- "The Iftar meal will recharge and replenish energy stores. Try to plan ahead with food shopping and cook in bulk so you can freeze some meals for the exam period. I love adding a combination of ingredients into a roasting tin cover with foil, leave in the fridge and pop into the oven just before Iftar. This doesn't require great cooking skills either!
- "Revising for long periods of time during fasting can often lead to a dip in energy levels and concentration. Hydration is key to maintaining good concentration as is good quality sleep. Take a power nap during the day or before Iftar if you’re feeling tired. Physical activity helps to release endorphins, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. A walk or light cardio exercise is beneficial during fasting hours and can be followed up with weight-based exercise after Iftar. Foods for brain power include oily fish, such as salmon at Iftar, berries as a topping on cereals or nuts and seeds to snack on during Taraweeh prayer.
- "Are there any foods you should avoid during Ramadan? All foods are fine in moderation but there are a few which you may wish to keep to a minimum. Caffeinated drinks are popular for some students trying to stay awake while burning the midnight oil. Water and sugar-free drinks are more hydrating, as caffeine drunk in great quantities can be dehydrating. Salty and highly spiced foods can also leave you feeling thirstier. Traditionally, Iftar is opened with fried snacks, such as samosa or pakora, which, if eaten daily could lead to weight gain and can leave you feeling over-full and sluggish. Fruits with a high-water content, such as watermelon, are more refreshing and hydrating or try a soup.
- "It is common for some people to feel full after a few mouthfuls of their Iftar meal. If this describes you, try eating multiple small meals and drink fluids in-between. This may help if you experience heartburn, caused by over-eating and eating spicy, fried foods. Prevent constipation by drinking plenty of fluids and including some soluble fibre in your meals from pulses, oats, fruit and vegetables.
"Most of all enjoy the benefits of improved spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing the month of Ramadan brings."
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, when most adult Muslims will fast from food and drink between dawn and sunset. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and allows Muslims to devote themselves to their faith and come closer to Allah, or God. The other four pillars are faith, prayer, charity and making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
The elderly, ill, pregnant, women who are nursing children and women who are menstruating are exempt from fasting. In some communities, those who are exempt from fasting feed the poor and less fortunate during the Suhoor and Iftar meals.
If your health is put at risk due to the fast, through possible dehydration or injury, Islam teaches that Allah has given permission in the Qur’an to break the fast. Islam does not require you to harm yourself in fulfilling the fast. If a fast is broken, the days can be made up by fasting when you are better.