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Muslims will cope with Ramadan at Commonwealth Games, says Loughborough expert

Observing Ramadan will not affect the performances of Muslim athletes at the Commonwealth Games, according to research by a Loughborough University academic.

Many athletes from 52 Muslim countries will fast from sunrise to sunset on six of the 12 days of the Glasgow event which runs from Wednesday, July 23 to Sunday, August 3.

They will also fast during the build-up because the Holy month started on June 27 and finishes on July 28.

And because daylight will last from 5am until 10am, Muslims from the southern hemisphere will experience their longest ever period of fasting.

But, according to Professor Ron Maughan, top level athletes can maintain performance if their training, food and fluid intake, and sleep are appropriate and well controlled.

That was the main finding of the research* conducted by the Emeritus Professor of Sport and Exercise Nutrition and three other academics in a study supported by FIFA in 2012.

Professor Maughan, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, said: “Muslim athletes competing at the Games will have thought through the issues.

“Some will choose to fast, while others may delay fasting until after the Games are over or may choose not to fast on days when they are competing.

“These days can be made up later. Those choosing to fast will have experienced Ramadan before and will know what works best for them.”

Professor Maughan also chaired a Consensus Conference of the International Olympic Committee that reviewed all the available evidence and concluded that: “Fasting of short duration or intermittent nature has little or no effect on the health or performance of most athletes.”

The 2012 study said that monitoring athletes may prevent fatigue and over-training and reduce the risk of illness and injury.

It said that training close to, or after, sunset, may be a benefit not only to performance but also because it allows athletes to eat and drink afterwards, which helps recovery and might help reduce muscle damage.
The study made several recommendations including:

  • Athletes must pay special attention to training loads, food and fluid intake, and sleep habits.
  • Monitoring of athletes during key periods of training may help to prevent fatigue, injury and illness.
  • The timing and intensity of training may require adjustment to get the most out of it. Training close to, or after, sunset, may be of benefit.
  • Special attention should be paid to the meals at Iftar (first meal after sunset) and Suhour (last meal before the beginning of the day’s fast) to help with the demands of training and competition.
  • Enough fluids and electrolytes (especially sodium) should be drunk after sunset and before sunrise to ensure full replacement of sweat losses to prevent dehydration.
  • If athletes are competing late in the day they should avoid warm environments during the day to limit glycogen depletion and sweat losses.
  • Athletes should get adequate sleep.
  • Coaches should be aware of the circadian variability on performance when planning training.
  • Athletes who have disrupted sleep at night should avoid napping at inappropriate times for long periods.
  • Team-mates who are not fasting should be sensitive to the needs of those who are.
  • Organisers should take account of the needs of fasting Muslim athletes when scheduling dates and timings of events.

*Achieving optimum sports performance during Ramadan: Some practical recommendations.
R J Maughan, W Al-Kharusi, MS Binnett, R Budgett, LM Burke, EF Coyle, R Elwani, C-Y Guezennec, J Limna, I Mujika, J Ramadan, P Schamasch, SM Shirreffs, P Venning (2012). Fasting and sports: a summary statement of the IOC workshop. Br J Sports Med 46, 457