Taking place from April 1st to May 1st this year, Ramadan is a holy month in Islam. With nearly 2 billion followers worldwide, it is a time for family and social activities centred around prayer and/or faith. During the month of Ramadan, fasting is observed by Muslims during the daylight hours, including all food, drink and medication. Among other reasons, fasting is observed during Ramadan to facilitate humility, discipline, self-reflection, and devotion to faith. Below, Setanta’s Des Ryan provides some recommendations for both coaches and athletes throughout the month of Ramadan.
Lasting one lunar month, the start and end dates of Ramadan differ yearly meaning that athletes will undergo some fasting times during competition phases throughout their careers. I was lucky that I got the opportunity to study Ramadan and performance during my time at Arsenal. I also was educated by players like Ismael Bennacer who now plays at AC Milan and also Zubair Haleem the academy physio who drove the education of good practice during Ramadan along with the nutritionist and people like Paudie Roche.
Some key terms for Ramadan:
● Tarawih: Evening Prayers
● Iftar: Breaking of the Fast
● Suhoor: Pre-Dawn Meal
● Eid al-Fitr: Festival at the end of Ramadan
● Ramadan Mubarak: Greeting – Blessed Mubarak
Recommendations for Athletes During Ramadan:
Performance, recovery and body composition are all linked to what you eat. During Ramadan, it is important to utilise meal times to the best of your ability. Although it is tempting to eat lots of high fat, high sugar and low nutritional foods, these are digested slower so they can make you feel more sluggish and lethargic.
Aim to prioritise high quality carbohydrates, proteins and fats to complement your training or rehab programme and limit desserts/sweets to 1-2 times per week. Energy storage will be key during your meal times, so choose good quality and highly nutritious options.
Suhoor is your final chance to fuel before the day ahead. Choosing slow release carbs will help to provide energy throughout the day. Protein is essential for recovery after training and also to maintain muscle mass. Ensure you include plenty of protein in each meal.
Depending on the weather and training schedule, there is a chance that athletes could experience mild dehydration symptoms that can lead to headaches, tiredness and lack of concentration. Similar to food, maximise the times you can rehydrate as fully as possible. Sugars and salts help our bodies retain water, so include valuable alternatives to plain water such as:
Water, Pinch of Salt, Fruit Juice | Coconut Water, Strawberries, Ice | Milk, Banana, Ice
Although not essential, having some key supplements during the non-fasting hours could help boost your nutritional profile. Key supplements to consider include multivitamins, whey protein, omega-3 and creatine. If you do choose to take supplements, ensure that you consult with a nutritionist first.
● Drink lots of fluids
● Choose good quality carbohydrates at all mealtimes.
● Plenty of protein in each meal.
● Suhoor should contain slow-release carbs.
How Coaches Can Support Athletes During Ramadan:
Be mindful that training times and intensities may need to be adapted
RPE’s and perceived feelings of fatigue may be elevated during Ramadan, even though training stays the same. It is important to remember that there is no single coping strategy and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is unlikely to be the solution. Training at any time during daylight hours presents challenges. Communication around the needs and outcomes of sessions is important to help determine the best time for Muslim players to undertake them
Encourage appropriate sleep habits
During Ramadan, night sleep patterns may become interrupted due to prayers and meal times, therefore catching up on missed hours during the day is highly recommended. Sleep has an impact on cognitive function, metabolism, hormone production and tissue repair. Therefore, ensuring athletes have a minimum of 7 hours per day is important.
Ask about meal and drink choices
This is where it is important to keep an open dialogue with athletes around their nutrition and hydration practices. We want to encourage ‘eating for performance’ at all times. The hope here is that we see a full picture of what choices are made and, where appropriate, encouraging different ones.
Be Respectful and Ask About Traditions
Lastly, and probably most importantly, it is important to be respectful and speak with athletes about their traditions. Engaging with them and providing support on how they can continue to perform throughout Ramadan will be greatly appreciated by athletes.