Each morning during Ramadan is the suhoor (the pre-dawn meal), the private antithesis to the usually congregational and public iftar at the end of the day. It is the fasting Muslim’s daily opportunity to set the tone for the day, both physically and spiritually. When done right, the suhoor allows you to properly focus on your daily responsibilities as well as your religious ones, and when done wrong (or not at all), it just plain makes your day miserable.
There are few opportunities to be truly alone with yourself (and by extension, God) than the early morning hours before the break of dawn, when the fajr prayer normally takes place. The world outside is still, and having just woken up, your mind is clear and in the best shape for communication with the Divine. Ideally, if you can leave enough time for both prayer and eating before dawn, it is an enriching experience. Even those who don’t have the time to do this normally are making up for it in this last ten days of Ramadan, when extra prayers are recommended and the “Night of Power” (said to be on one of the odd-numbered days in the last third of the month) awaits.
We can’t, however, forget the practical purpose of the suhoor – to eat a balanced breakfast that can get you through the day. I’ve tried every variation on the meal – stuffing myself with everything I could find in the kitchen, loading up with slow-burning meat, and just simply drinking water and juice. But fluids alone aren’t enough, and protein is better suited for the evening meals, where it won’t be stored as fat when you sleep.
The focus should be on the complete energy and hydration needs of the day ahead. In the end, I’ve settled on a larger-than-normal “carbo-loading” breakfast — filling oatmeal, several glasses of juice and water, and no more than two eggs (or maybe a pancake breakfast at a 24-hour IHOP). The large quantities of fluids are essential to reduce dehydration (and splitting headaches). Complex carbohydrates help maintain a store of energy that is released slowly throughout the day. This combination seems to work the best for me in terms of how I feel towards the end of the fast.
The best part of having your breakfast done well before you have to get ready for work — assuming you didn’t stay up too late the previous night — is that you have some additional time for prayer and reflection in the early morning hours. Sometimes I go out on the porch as the sky turns to light, and read my Qur’an by the emerging daylight. Other times, I extend my morning prayers with additional ones where I seek guidance for the difficult decisions in my life. And the rest of the time – well, I collapse back into my bed. Sometimes, you just can’t fight the sleep.