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28 August 2009 | PR 09/114

Sports scientists aim to uncover performance effects of Ramadan

Sports nutrition experts from Loughborough University are working with Algeria’s national football team to discover the effects of fasting on performance and determine individual strategies for players.

Professor Ron Maughan and Dr Phil Watson from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences are undertaking tests and analysis on Algerian players ahead of the team’s next World Cup qualification match which takes place during Ramadan – the month-long Muslim festival that requires observers to fast during daylight hours. 

Professor Maughan, an advisor to FIFA’s medical group F-MARC and chair of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) nutrition advisory group, has been at the forefront of sports nutrition research for the past 20 years and has specific expertise in hydration and sports performance, and the impact of exercising in the heat.

Loughborough’s academics were personally invited to Algeria by the national football association medical committee chair Dr Yacine Zerguini to monitor the team and provide nutritional advice and support in the lead up to the next qualification match. 

Dr Watson visited Algeria earlier this month to undertake testing which included gathering sweat samples and monitoring food and drink intake during training in order to provide preliminary feedback to the team. Professor Maughan returns at the end of the month to give a more detailed response and help develop individual strategies for the players.

“There’s been a push in recent years on individualised nutrition strategies, with different playing positions and players’ varying heights, weight and build all having an affect on their personal requirements,” Dr Watson explains. 

“By determining sweat rates and composition we can determine individual hydration strategies for each athlete.

“Nutrition is a small but easily changeable part of athlete preparation and is something you can manipulate to produce effects on performance. An athlete is unlikely to perform at their best unless they are drinking and eating the right foods.

“The margins for success at the top level of sport are so small that tiny percentages can make a big difference. The nature of funding in football means coaches are able to go that extra mile to improve their players’ performances.”

This latest research follows on from an extensive study carried out in Tunisia three years ago, where tests were conducted on players observing Ramadan and those following regular eating and drinking patterns.

The results showed no adverse effects among the fasting players in any of the measured biomechanical, nutritional and performance variables. 

“Fasting for Ramadan isn’t a major problem for performance as players’ energy intake tends not to drop. It’s more about a change in their pattern of eating and their ability to cope with sleep deprivation,” adds Dr Watson.

“In hotter countries there are issues with hydration which is why, for this work in particular, we’ve paid a lot of attention to sweat composition. We’ve been looking at sweat rates, the levels of salts in the sweat, how much the players drink and when they drink.

“The match scheduled during Ramadan will take place once the fast has broken, so we’ll be looking at what players can do in these few hours to give them the best chance of performing well.

“It’s interesting that none of the players believe Ramadan impacts on their performance, and they attribute this to their strength of faith. The scientific evidence would agree - our study in Tunisia showed no negative impact on training or performance, as long as the player is able to get quality sleep.”

Algeria currently have a three-point lead at the top of their group, but the forthcoming match against Zambia on 6 September will be vital in helping them achieve a place in next year’s World Cup.

−ENDS−

For all media enquiries contact:

Amanda Overend
Sport PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228686
E: A.J.P.Overend@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2008 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top five universities in the UK, with 22 out of 30 of its subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. It was named winner of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other institution.

It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

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