DUBAI // A young royal from Sharjah is leading the charge of young Emiratis who refuse to see Ramadan as an excuse for unhealthy choices.
Shaikha Al Qassemi, 24, of the Sharjah ruling family, leads a healthy lifestyle all year round, but for the past four years she has used Ramadan as a chance to cleanse her body as well as her mind and soul.
While fasting, Ms Al Qassemi continues to train about five times a week. Her philosophy is "fast, pray, eat, lift".
"I get invited to gatherings and I say no because they're all full of bad stuff I shouldn't be eating while I'm training," she said. "After my gym session, I can pass by. I compromise in that sense."
Her iftar meal is cooked separately from her family's and consists of brown or gaba rice, grilled meat and vegetables: a light enough meal so she can go to the gym within two hours of breaking fast.
After training, she has a protein shake and supplements. Her suhoor consists of oatmeal and nuts to keep her going through the day and help her to recover from training the night before. "I eat a lot of dates because I need the energy," she said.
"In Ramadan, you're depriving your body of so much of its nutrients during these long days of fasting so you have to make sure you're actually feeding your body good things with good fats, vitamins and minerals."
Since she began making lifestyle changes, those around her have been following suit.
"They've seen the changes in me, how much stronger I have become, and they want to do it to," she said. "I want the girls to look at me and aspire to this rather than just being skinny, which many of them think is health.
"They're starving themselves on the inside to be beautiful on the outside, but this isn't healthy.
"Even those going to the gym, they do cardio but if you can't pick things up, get something heavy down from a cupboard overhead, if you hurt your back by lifting heavy luggage, that's not healthy."
She plans to set up a gym in her home in Sharjah so her Emirati friends can train with her.
Ms Al Qassemi began strength training at Scandinavian Health and Performance four months ago and since then has made huge progress.
Two weeks ago she came second in a first CrossFit "throwdown" competition at the Burn Room in Dubai.
Marwan Al Marri, 23, an upcoming Emirati athlete tipped to reach the final rounds of this September's Dubai Fitness Competition, agrees.
The business management student eats only at home or at one friend's house during Ramadan to ensure he sticks to his training and dietary requirements.
Just before iftar, the Olympic weightlifter jogs the 3.5km track around Safa Park near his Jumeirah home and then, after iftar and a short nap, he goes to the gym to do his strength and conditioning training.
He said Ramadan was the busiest time for locals to be at the popular track, despite the heat.
"They really try their best during this time. It's so busy with people walking, running or jogging," he said.