Twenty-eight-year-old Belal Ahmed, first-officer with Air Arabia, has been flying commercial aircraft since 2014.
A healthy diet and a smart exercise regime is the best way to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, according to this Sharjah-based pilot.
Twenty-eight-year-old Belal Ahmed, first-officer with Air Arabia, has been flying commercial aircraft since 2014. “I’ve wanted to fly ever since I was a small kid. When I was small, I didn’t realise that humans flew aircraft. The first time I saw one was when I was with my grandfather, and I promised him then that I would fly an aircraft, one day.”
Belal, who also happens to be a former athlete, decided to take up flying commercial airlines’ because he realised ‘flying is his first passion’. A devout Muslim, Belal did not let the physically demanding and mentally taxing career as a pilot stop him from fasting during Ramadan. “Pilots need to be in great physical form, given you are responsible for the lives of several hundred people when you’re up in the air. You need focus, and for that, you need to have enough exercise, a good diet, and plenty of rest,” added Belal.
A healthy diet for Suhoor
However, the pilot has devised a way to fast while flying, without it taking a toll on his health. Even though Air Arabia flies’ short distances and over short time zones, Belal’s formula could also work for pilots who travel much longer distances. “Initially when I started in 2009. I would go for high-carb diet for Suhoor, making me very thirsty during the day. I would eat pancakes, fried stuff and other unhealthy foods,” he explained.
Since he realised that a high-carb diet made him feel thirsty throughout the day, he shifted to eating very light foodstuffs for Suhoor. “I’ve learnt that eating less makes you much better. I have a simple meal of plain oatmeal and milk with honey, one to two bananas and dates, because these are packed with nutrients and can keep me going for hours. I avoid oily and high carb foods at all costs, and drink two litres of water every day,” he added.
As for exercise, he only does light stretching during the holy month. “When I go for the flight, we generally have to talk a lot. Except for important announcement and discussions with other cabin crew, I try to limit my conversations to mandatory sentences.”
Belal realised that the healthy diet is much better. “Flying doesn’t affect unless you have low blood pressure, or if you’re pregnant in the case of women. But when you’re a pilot, you can’t afford to be weak or tired, and you can tell if your body is weak, or losing sugar. We don’t tend to fly if that is the case,” he stated. Pilots have a reputation for being heavy coffee drinkers, however, Belal said not adding sugar in the coffee helps pilots avoid a slight headache that they feel from consuming excess sugar.
The pilot also advises avoiding sugar and other foods that cause acidity completely. “You should never have fizzy drinks during Iftar because the sudden shock of sugar to an otherwise clean body could send you into a sugar-shock,” Belal said.
The young pilot has experienced a couple of Iftars in mid-air. “While flying if you break your fast a little after sunset or a little earlier, it is acceptable. If I don’t have access to dates, I eat a small piece of dark chocolate and drink a little bit of water.”
However, breaking fast while flying over the Atlantic and heading to the West is a different ball game altogether. “I’ve never fasted while travelling to the United States. If you’re flying from the UAE to Los Angeles, which is an average of a 16 to 19-hour flight and you’re flying away from the sun at 1,000 km per hour. As a pilot, I would not fast because the religion tells us that you can avoid fast when you’re performing hard labour, if you’re pregnant, or if you’re travelling,” he added.
Belal also thinks it is imperative that pilots always keep some food with them if they are fasting. “I might need to divert the flight elsewhere, and I need energy in case there is an emergency, so it is best to be prepared at all times,” Belal said.
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