Emirati cyclists hope to inspire women to work out during Ramadan

While many people view the holy month as a time slow down, Masooma Ali is going up a gear in preparation for a 70-kilometre road race.

Emirati Masooma Ali cycles at the Al Khawaneej cycle track during the evening in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // A group of female Emirati cyclists will be on their bikes during Ramadan hoping to motivate others to exercise after breaking their fast.

While many view the holy month as a time to slow their daily routine and even stop working out, bank manager Masooma Ali is turning it up a gear in preparation for a 70-kilometre road race on July 3.

“This is my goal, to get more girls into cycling. I’m trying to promote this sport for girls,” said Ms Ali, who is riding 50km a day as she trains for the Nad Al Sheba cycling championship, a race that takes place in the evening.

“Cycling is not very common in our culture, and girls normally go to the gym or train indoors. So you really have to convince others to take up cycling.”

She advised women not to overeat at iftar and work out to improve fitness and nutrition levels. “Last year, I raced for fun but this year I’m taking it seriously. You become conscious about what you’re eating because it affects training, so I make sure to have salad and proteins. In the UAE we tend to eat fried foods for iftar. I feel we stuff ourselves and this is the wrong way. During Ramadan we need exercise even if it’s a one-hour walk to feel fresh.”

Ms Ali recently attended a nutrition workshop organised by Liv Cycling, a store dedicated to female cyclists. The participants heard valuable tips about eating small meals, the need for hydration, exercising two hours after a meal and adding rice, chicken, fish, whole grains and vegetables to their diet.

More workshops are planned this summer with the next focusing on hydration and electrolyte management, said Emma Woodcock, who represents the store. She cautioned those who do not train regularly not to overdo it.

“This is not a time to be pushing yourself hard. You can do strength training indoors like putting your bike on an indoor trainer for short workouts.”

Asma Al Janahi, an Emirati computer engineering student, hopes women will be encouraged to cycle when they see her group out in Al Barsha park, Jumeirah and around town.

“We are planning to do late evening rides during Ramadan,” said Ms Al Janahi, co-founder of UAE Cycling Girls, which has more than a dozen riders, mostly Emiratis.

“We want to tell other girls there is no reason to stop training during Ramadan if you exercise the rest of the year.

“Some people may be surprised to see us exercise during Ramadan. Some think being a girl you should not exercise or because it’s Ramadan you should not do anything. This is the general culture and we’re doing our best to change this idea. Girls need to eat healthy, stay hydrated and understand the power of cycling.”

Dietician Salma Ganchi said eating small portions at iftar was equally important and cycling outdoors during fasting hours was not recommended.

“Headaches are quite common during Ramadan and if you have a headache don’t go cycling,” she said.

“Tingling, the shivers are other warning signs of dehydration. Feeling dizzy on a bike is dangerous. The key in Ramadan is maintaining fitness, it’s not a time to increase fitness or become stronger.”