Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and spiritual reflection, poses unique challenges for athletes who must balance their religious observance with their physical and competitive demands.
Some of the challenges that arise are:
- Maintaining energy levels, athletes require a lot of energy to train and compete, but fasting can lead to a decrease in energy levels and a a result, performance.
- Staying hydrated, dehydration is often neglected at the best of times so an added challenge during Ramadan, as drinking water or other fluids during the day is not allowed.
- Balancing training, and the rest that Athletes need to train and to perform at their best, can be disrupted. Their sleep patterns can be challenged and make it difficult to maintain a consistent training schedule.
- Adjusting rapidly to a different eating schedule. With increased energy intake requirements, fasting can make it difficult to maintain a healthy and balanced diet and meet the needs of a training athlete.
- Fasting can provide mental and emotional challenges, as well as physical, especially for athletes who are under a lot of pressure to perform. Potentially experiencing additional fatigue, irritability (I am sure hanger is well understood by most!), and difficulty concentrating, which can affect their performance.
- Competing in international competitions can potentially put Muslim athletes at a disadvantage. Ramadan is not observed universally, and athletes may have to compete in international competitions where fasting is not observed by their competitors. Even athletes with training partners who are not fasting may have to adjust their expectations at group workouts.
Despite these challenges, many Muslim athletes have found ways to successfully balance their religious observance with their training and athletic goals. I had the pleasure to chat to both Mahamed and Zak Mahamed to see how they both manage their training and racing over this time.
Mahamed has recently joined the Puma team and can be found racing across a variety of distances on road, track or cross country. With an English National XC title to his name along with a 28:14 10k PB and 62:06 for half marathon.
Zak, often going head-to-head with his brother on the mud and grass, is currently leading the way home at many high paced UK track races. Recently clocking 13:47 over 12.5 laps at Comeback 5000.
How do you adjust your training schedule during Ramadan to accommodate your period of fasting?
Mahamed: Ramadan is a difficult month for me to manage because it is hard to train on the empty stomach there this year I have managed to train at night in order to keep my mileage up.
The non-fasting hours are very important to stay hydrated. Between Iftar and Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal before fasting).
Zak: Meal planning: Make sure to incorporate wholesome foods that provide me long-lasting energy. To fuel your workouts and speed up recovery, eat complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats during Suhoor and Iftar. As for training, I was able to get some in before I broke my fast, then at night we went to prayer.
What strategies do you use to counter the dehydrating effects of running?
Mahamed: During this month I make sure to drink lots of water and other hydrating liquids. Dehydration and muscular cramps can be avoided by maintaining fluids during my workouts. Drinks that are very caffeinated or sweet should be limited because they can further dehydrate you.
Zak: Even though I can’t drink water during the day, which causes me to become dehydrated, I make sure to drink a lot of water once I break my fast. Keep an eye on the colour of your urine: Pay attention to the hue of my pee. Dark yellow or amber-coloured urine may be an indication of dehydration, while clear or pale yellow pee often indicates good hydration. Urine should ideally be light in colour as a sign of adequate hydration.
3. Do you find any changes in your sleep or other areas of recovery an additional challenge?
Zak: Yes, I do find the sleeping changes during Ramadan because I have to stay up pretty much throughout the night and it affects the body, mentally and physically.
Do you feel you experience any additional mental or emotional stress and how do you cope with these? Does it help knowing your brother is likely having a similar experience?
Mahamed: The non-fasting hours are very important to stay hydrated. Between iftar and suhoor (the pre-dawn meal before fasting resumes), make sure to consume lots of water and other hydrating liquids. Dehydration and muscular cramps can be avoided by maintaining fluids during your workouts. Drinks that are very caffeinated or sweet should be limited because they can further dehydrate you.
Zak: Other than sleeping less, I don’t have any mental issues, yet I’m happy when Ramadan is through because a month of devotion is emotionally worthwhile.
We can’t get away without asking about racing! Do you plan your racing calendar around Ramadan or do you race through Ramadan? Do you make any changes to incorporate important events?
Mahamed: When it comes to racing it’s challenging because the race is during daytime, however I raced last year for the experience, but it was the hardest thing to do. Every year I take as a new experience because this year I raced one day after Ramadan finished and I managed to complete it with happy results.
Zak: Yes, we make modifications every year, which means we learn new things every year. I ran personal bests in my races last year and this year, proving that Ramadan doesn’t have a significant impact if you keep up the good work.
Keep up to date with Mahamed and Zak on their Instagram and YouTube channels!
Mahamed Instagram & YouTube links:
Zak Instagram & YouTube links: