The Ninth of Av is one of the harder fasts here in Israel. Aside from it ending super late, we are also usually in middle of a heat wave at this time of the year. So properly preparing is key to getting through the fast. Let’s jump right in.
What to eat BEFORE a fast:
- This goes without saying, but water is the main contributor that will get your body through a fast. A healthy human can go almost 3 weeks without eating, but we can only survive for 3 days without water. Our cells, blood, the body’s building blocks are made up of mostly water. You get the point right? Water is necessary.
Bottom line: drink your body weight in pounds divided by two and that is the amount in ounces your body is meant to have regularly. For before a fast, add a few extra ounces, but really no need to surpass this number exponentially if you are remaining hydrated regularly in the days leading up to the fast. Other ways to get in extra hydration is through produce. So think foods like watermelon, cucumbers, celery, peppers, peaches, oranges, and berries. These fruits and veggies are made up of almost 90% water content, so be sure to keep these available as snacks in the days leading up to a fast.
- Potassium is a natural electrolyte found in our bodies. Electrolytes provide us with lasting energy, so obviously a great thing to have before a fast. This is why marathon runners have sports drinks like Gatorade or PowerAde, and those gel packs. If you remember anything from your high school cell biology class, you’ll probably remember that the flow of potassium and sodium are pretty crucial for muscle contraction and for proper cell function/energy conservation. Potassium is also a great regulator of blood sugar levels, which is something we really want to be watching during fasts.
Bottom line: try to add in some potassium rich foods such as bananas, cantaloupe, dates, broccoli and sweet potatoes, to name a few. This will be especially beneficial if you include these foods in your pre-fast meal.
- Protein: this is the food that will help you feeling full longer. The thing with protein, however, is that we digest it within the first few hours of the fast, so it won’t have super long effects, but it will be a crucial factor in getting in a balanced meal before the fast. This is important in order to keep blood sugar levels stable and not spiking throughout the fast.
Bottom line: pre fast be sure to include a protein of choice. It can be animal protein such as fish, meat or chicken, or some plant based protein including beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes. For the vegetarians amongst us: non-GMO soy products as well as pea protein are an excellent high plant based protein option. Have you seen this brand of fake meat? It’s available at Shufersal and in most health food chains throughout the country. It’s delicious and Fresh Sabra approved 🙂 Seitan (wheat protein) and Tempeh (fermented wheat) are also lovely choices.
- Fat: Same goes with fat. Healthy fats not only provide us with a full feeling for longer, but they are known to be the best source of energy storage, which is something our bodies desperately need during fasts. When we give our body fat to store, as we enter a state of hypoglycemia (essentially when the brain feels it is getting no energy), the liver knows how to easily and efficiently break down those fatty acids and convert them into large amounts of ATP (energy) to distribute throughout the body. Fat is also a wonderful blood sugar stabilizer, which is why diabetics are often told to supply their diets with a lot of healthy fats.
Bottom line: be sure to include some healthy fats in your pre-fast meals. Examples of healthy fats include olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, chickpeas, avocado (my Avocado Pesto is pictured above, a great option to add to chicken or even some whole grain pasta pre-fast!) and beans. High fat dairy works too.
- This is going to be the most important point I make, and I’m very passionate about it, so I apologize for the rant ahead. Carbohydrates. Ya’ll know how preachy I can get when it comes to carbs. But before you take this as an opportunity to grab a bowl of pasta before the fast, let me first say, quality is going to trump everything here. So we are looking at complex carbs. Why? I’ll explain…
Firstly because carbohydrates are the ONLY source of energy our brains can use. In fasting mode, our bodies are literally pulling energy sources from every last resort, and if we do not have enough glycogen (chains of glucose i.e. carbs) built up, our brain will simply stop functioning. This is why we feel light headed during a fast; our brains are slowly stopping to function. And complex carbs are the types of carbs our bodies know how to break down most efficiently. Therefore, they provide our brains with the best source of energy.
Complex carbs have many layers to them. These layers will allow the carbs to be used as energy sources overtime (i.e. throughout the fast). Think of it as it sounds: layers upon layers of energy. Our bodies slowly digest each layer and distribute the energy to the necessary locations. Then when it needs more, there’s more layers to go around. This also helps regulate blood sugar levels because we are not flooding our bodies with an influx of sugar, but rather allowing the body to slowly incorporate these sugars (carbs) overtime. This is why processed carbs like white sugar and white flour are not great because they do not have these “layers” of energy. Instead they provide a burst of energy to begin with, but then the layers run out, our blood sugar is spiked, and we are left with no more energy to be utilized overtime (but more on that in my guide to Quality Food Over Calories…coming soon!)
So PLEASEEEEEE drop the low carb diet at least for before the fast. Load up on some of the following things.
Bottom line: whole grains such as rice, faro, barley, oats, quinoa, and starchy/complex veggies like sweet potatoes and squash. Veggies are also great, just make sure they are cooked so you don’t deal with digestive issues while you are mid fast! Make sure you have these included in the day before the fast as well as a main components of your pre-fast meal.
One last note: The food that we eat is going to be digested pretty quickly, the idea is that we are eating food that will be utilized as energy and blood sugar stabilizers over time. So that actually means that quantity is not so important. You don’t need to stuff your face with loads and loads of food. In fact, that may actually make you hungrier because your blood sugar levels can rapidly rise this way, and this will just leave you with a mid fast sugar crash. So choose quality foods and eat a regular portion size, or maybe a tad bit more than usual if you need that mentally.
So to sum for you guys, it really comes down to a nice balanced meal that incorporates hydrating foods as well as potassium rich produce. I’ll add a few menu options as examples below for you all.
1)*For fasts NOT during the 9 days when you can have meat:
- A whole roasted chicken (can stuff with dates or use date syrup as a glaze for that potassium!) accompanied by brown rice and a lentils, with a side of steamed broccoli or acorn squash.
- My Silan Glazed Turkey Balls is actually a great option that incorporates a lean protein with date syrup for that potassium punch. Serve it over brown rice and you’ve got yourself a perfect pre-fast meal! Check it out here. For dessert, have some cantaloupe or watermelon!
2) Salmon and herbed quinoa with steamed broccoli or cauliflower, and baked sweet potatoes. For dessert, nut butter stuffed dates and berries with coconut cream (yum!)
3) Lentil and bean soup (add in a can of coconut cream for some healthy fats, or top with some avocado if you want more of a Mexican spiced soup) loaded with veggies with a side of steamed rice. Check out my 15-Minute Curried Lentil and Butternut Squash Soup for a quick and easy option! For dessert have some fresh berries, or a frozen banana peanut butter “mock” ice-cream.
Always here for suggestions and recs 🙂
Wishing you all an easy and meaningful fast. Now go drink some water!