Ramadan nutrition: impact of intermittent fasting on growth

While millions of Muslims in the world observe and welcome the holy month of Ramadan for the service of divine worship and various benefits, many parents might worry about whether fasting during Ramadan stunts their child’s growth. Even though children are exempt from fasting in the religious culture of the Muslims, some still choose to fast for numerous reasons. So, can young Muslims maintain healthy growth while participating in this sacred tradition? This article will provide an insightful understanding of their body’s responses to the new lifestyle patterns during Ramadan. Continue to deepen your knowledge with effective strategies to ensure they can thrive and strive throughout this fasting period.

Understanding Ramadan: A Holistic Overview of the Month of Fasting in Islam

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, is one of the holiest months, requiring Muslims to fast daily for 29 to 30 days. The onset of the Ramadan fasting period varies on days, normally starting after the declaration of the local Islamic authority. The announcement is declared by relying on different methodologies, such as astronomical calculations or moon-sighting approaches.

Muslims have to strictly abstain from food, drinks (including water), snacks, sexual activity, and certain physical needs from dawn (Fajr) to dusk (Maghrib) every day for the entire period of Ramadan [1]. Such norms are known as Sawm, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, fundamentally shaping a Muslim’s faith and practices. 

Members of Muslim communities around the world expect the obligatory Ramadan with worship, prayers, charity, self-reflection, and community. The fasting practiced strictly during this period is aimed at fostering self-discipline, empathy with the poor and those less fortunate, and closeness to their God (Allah). 

Fasting Styles: Unveiling the Similarities and Differences


Intermittent Fasting (IF): A Cycle of Feasting and Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained tremendous popularity worldwide as a means of losing weight. IF does not dictate any specific foods that need to be restricted, yet it focuses on the ‘when’ you will eat. The term ‘intermittent fasting’ refers to an alternative dieting strategy proposing the cycles of fasting and unrestricted eating periods. Fasting can be carried out 2 to 3 times per week, or you can conduct alternate-day fasting [2].

Here are some popular intermittent fasting methods:

  • 16/8 Method: Involved fasting for a consecutive 16 hours and restricting your eating window to only 8 hours a day. 

  • 5:2 Method: You consume foods for 5 days and restrict your calorie intake to 500-600 on 2 non-consecutive days. This method allows you more flexibility in your eating schedule.

  • Ramadan Fasting: A Structured Daily Fast

    Like the two methods mentioned above, Ramadan fasting (RF) is also dictated to be one of the intermittent fasting methods. Indeed, this religious ritual resembles and can be categorized into one type of IF called restricted-time feeding (RTF). 

    Restricted-time feeding is characterized by allowing a subject to eat only for a specific time window during the day. In the case of Ramadan, the fasting pattern allows a wide span of eating window, from after sunset till before the dawn of the next day. Meanwhile, the rest of the time is spent fasting. 

    There are 2 main meals following Ramadan’s fasting regime called Iftar and Suhoor. Iftar is the first meal after sunset, which often begins with dates and water and is followed by a larger meal with family and friends. Another meal happens just before dawn, called Suhoor. This morning meal helps to sustain and fuel individuals throughout the day.

    Ramadan Nutrition: Impact of Intermittent Fasting on Growth

    For adolescents and teenagers undergoing rapid growth and development, it is important to create the most optimal environment for them to thrive. Researchers indicated that IF or Ramadan imposes certain changes on metabolism, hormone levels, mental health, and nutrient absorption.


    Hormone Levels

    Intermittent fasting, including Ramadan fasting, can affect hormone levels responsible for growth regulation, such as growth hormones (GH).

    Studies reported an increased concentration of growth hormones (GH) through observation of two- or five-day fasting [3]. This change is a part of the body’s adaptive response towards changes in fat metabolism. As the elevated demands in energy, GH facilitates the utilization of stored fat to produce energy that should have been generated via dietary intakes. 

    Higher levels of GH secretion also preserve the body’s muscle mass from loss during fasting. What’s more, ensuring the muscle mass supports adequate strength and mobility, contributing greatly to optimal growth and development in the formative years.

    Mental Health

    While there is no considerable change in the mental well-being of individuals with initial normal mood before and after Ramadan, this short-term fasting regime might impose positive impacts on mentally fragile individuals. Research reveals that people previously diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and stress experience significant improvement with decreased scores on these scales after Ramadan. 

    These alterations reflect the potential benefits of intermittent fasting, or Ramadan fasting on the vitality of your mental health.

    Nutrient Absorption

    Prolonged fasting without sufficient uptake of essential nutrition will inevitably harm your physical state, typically leading to nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition, and even impaired growth. 

    Besides, any drinks, including water, are prohibited during the restricted window. That means your body will undoubtedly face the emerging challenge of staying hydrated from dawn to dusk. Dehydration, as a consequence, can result in fatigue, headaches, constipation, and impaired cognitive function.

    Improved Blood Sugar Control

    Fasting can ameliorate insulin sensitivity and provide potential benefits for individuals grappling with pre-diabetes or type-2 diabetes.

    Weight Management

    A restricted eating window leads to a decrease in calorie intake and weight loss if diets are not carefully regulated with adequate nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

    Ensuring Healthy Growth During Ramadan


    Since Ramadan only lasts for a maximum of 4 weeks, it is supposed to be short-term fasting, whose impacts are different from that induced by long-term intermittent fasting. Because of the short-term duration, Ramadan does not stunt growth in children and adolescents. We emphasize balanced and nutritious meals to fuel children’s bodies with essential nutrients needed for growth. 

    In common sense, skipping one meal within 24 hours inevitably leads to a gigantic reduction in food consumption and energy production. So, how to ensure proper nutrition during Ramadan fasting for teenagers?

    To promote a healthy fast, a ‘Ramadan Plate’ is helpful if:

    • Carbohydrates: Choose slow-digesting, high-fiber options, such as whole grains and vegetables. Make sure to account for 40-50% of carbohydrates in your total daily calorie intake (TDCI).
    • Protein: Should take up 20-30% of the TDCI. Concentrate on lean protein sources like legumes (peas, chickpeas, red kidney beans, peanuts, and so on) and fatty fish (salmon or tuna).
    • Healthy Fats: You should avoid excessive fat since it may make you feel sluggish during fasting hours. Other saturated fats found in red meat or processed foods had better be avoided as well because these foods can increase ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body, the main culprit of potential cardiovascular diseases. However, healthy or unsaturated fats (35% of the TDCI), like olive oil and nuts, are highly recommended since they effectively help sustain energy throughout the day. 

    During your eating window, it is important to spread your calorie intake among meals:

    • Suhoor (pre-dawn meal): consume 30-40% of your daily calorie needs. Prioritize protein-rich sources (eggs, lean meat, legumes), carbohydrate-concentrated products (whole grains, brown rice), fruits, and vegetables.
    • Iftar (post-dusk meal): aim for 40-50% of your daily calorie intake. Carefully prepare balanced meals of grilled protein, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Bear in mind to limit sugary treats in your children’s diets. However, dates, a good source of sugars, like fructose and glucose, are chosen by Muslims when breaking the fast, thanks to their energy provision. This fruit can also contain a certain amount of water, which can hydrate the body after a long-lasting fasting period. 
    • Snacks (optional): account for 10-20% of calories through the consumption of healthy snacks if needed. 

    You could also take into consideration additional supplements throughout your Ramadan. For example, NuBest Tall Protein with different delicious flavors (such as Chocolate and Vanilla) can be a quick and easy way to increase your children’s protein intake in case of protein deficiency, unexpected nutritional gaps, or energy depletion during Ramadan. 


    Understanding the impacts of intermittent fasting and Ramadan on an individual’s health, regarding hormone regulation, metabolism, nutrient absorption, and mentality, is pivotal. It can be concluded that fasting during Ramadan is less likely to imply serious complications in the growth and development of your child during their formative years. By prioritizing nutrient-rich food choices and meal planning, parents can mitigate the potential risks associated with the fasting-induced changing patterns in their daily lives. 

    Research Articles

    [1] Lessan, N., & Ali, T. (2019). Energy metabolism and intermittent fasting: The Ramadan Perspective. Nutrients, 11(5), 1192. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051192

    [2] Li, K., Liu, B., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2020). Intermittent fasting: What questions should we be asking? Physiology & Behavior, 218, 112827. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.112827

    [3] Kim, B. H., Joo, Y., Kim, M. S., Choe, H. K., Tong, Q., & Kwon, O. (2021). Effects of Intermittent Fasting on the Circulating Levels and Circadian Rhythms of Hormones.  Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea), 36(4), 745–756. https://doi.org/10.3803/EnM.2021.405