Sports in Ramadan: 'I’m tough with the guys and can yell in their face', says superfit Emirati coach
The holy month means little respite for the members of one fitness class, who train before and after iftar to keep up their regime
Emirati athlete and coach Nuha Al Marri is firm but fair with her fitness class.
There's one cheat day per week – and she lets class participants train in two sets before and after iftar. That's up from the usual one set.
Ms Al Marri – known as the fittest Emirati woman for the numerous national competitions and medals won – coaches throughout the holy month even as she trains herself for the CrossFit Regional Championships in Madrid next month.
“We are human so you can’t sit in a family gathering and say you will not eat anything. Friday is a family day and you can reward yourself with a cheat meal if you have tried to eat clean during the week,” she told The National this week as she set out how to stay healthy and fit throughout the holy month.
Her class members at Dubai's Metalise gym undertakes some light cardio workouts before iftar and then return for intensive workouts after breaking their fast.
The first phase is fluid with changes every minute, from the rowing to ski machine and moving to the bike to handle exercise while fasting. Weightlifting and heavier cardio workouts are spread across the second session.
Staying hydrated, eating a small meal at iftar is key and nutrition determines health post-Ramadan.
“Many people eat so much at iftar that they can’t move. When you consume a heavy meal, you get lazy. The suhoor meal can have the good fats, carbs so the body keeps this in reserve for the next day and you have the energy you need,” she said.
“Even if you work out twice a day and your nutrition is poor, you will not get results.”
Ms Al Marri makes a strong case to turn healthy eating into a lifestyle choice. She urges her team to change the way they eat by replacing burgers and fries with sweet potato and brown rice.
This Ramadan, her days are also geared to focused workout sessions for the Madrid CrossFit championships early next month, where she will pit her skills against experienced European athletes.
“I rest during the day to prevent dehydration. I try not to exhaust myself and don’t go out in the sun. I save my energy for the evening,” she said.
“It is everyone’s dream to reach the regionals and go to the main games. My aim is to do good. For me the most important thing is representing the UAE,” she said.
It started in 2014, when she was the only Emirati woman competing in the Dubai Fitness Championship.
For a long stretch, she was the only Emirati competing in local and overseas fitness championships and she steadily began winning.
Ms Al Marri placed third in the highly competitive Battle of the East in Kuwait in 2014, moved up to second place the next year, going on to win the contest in 2016 and 2017.
Her achievements have made her a magnet for those seeking to learn from her success.
“At the start it was kind of awkward to have a girl training you. Most men would say that a girl doesn’t know anything,” said Mohammed Salem, a banker who clocks in nine hours behind a desk and has been training with Ms Al Marri for the past three years.
But once the men became aware of her CrossFit accomplishments, they quickly accepted she was serious about coaching.
“People soon saw she was the first to clock in and last one to clock out. With the trophies she brought in, people realised she did know what she is doing and began training with her. She supervises the whole class but she knows everyone’s mistakes and makes sure you get past it. The atmosphere is great, it’s like a family, plus it feels great to work out,” he said.
Mr Salem is training for his first major competition, the Battle of the East at the end of this year.
His training routine during Ramadan is consistent as he has learnt from Ms Al Marri that he needs to listen to his body.
“Your body may not have the energy, you may be thirsty or dehydrated then you can go easy. I make sure I digest before I work out. Some people constantly snack after iftar,” he said.
Coaching mixed groups of men and women was a learning curve for Ms Al Marri.
“When guys see a lady coaching, they underestimate you. The girls never underestimate you.
"I’m tough with the guys and can yell in their face to tell them: ‘Don’t stop. C’mon guys.’ I always push them.”
When she started out her CrossFit journey in 2013, there were no separate exercise groups for women and it took an open-minded family to allow her to pursue her dreams.
“I had to train with guys and at the beginning it was hard. But my goal was to compete for the UAE. My family didn’t accept it at the beginning until they understood I was really serious when they saw me representing our country. By then other Emirati girls had also started training.”
The group of Emirati women she coaches have varied goals with mothers training with their daughters in some sessions. The workouts she puts them through range from endurance to strength, squatting and working with weights.
“We change the exercises so they can train next to each other. The mothers are asked to jump off a smaller box compared to their daughters,” she said.
“Some girls want to compete, other women want to stay fit. It’s a close community and each woman pushes the other. If one girl falls back, the others will help her. That is exactly what I want from them.”
Updated: May 29, 2018 10:13 AM