Ramadan is a period of fasting in the Muslim faith, which occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Ramadan falls March 22 - April 21, 2023. During this time, Muslims abstain from food and drinks on a daily basis (from dawn to sunset). Two main meals per day are consumed, one prior to sunrise known as the Sahur and one to break the fast after sunset known as the Iftar. Traditional foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, halal meats, meat, chicken, fish, dairy, beans, breads, rice, noodles, cheeses, and sweets. Many will break fast by sipping water, sweet drinks, juices or soups followed by a few dates, always an odd number (1, 3 or 5) and never too many, to follow the example of the prophet, who is said to have broken his fast with 3 dates. Then, a popular main course at the Iftar to enjoy is Chicken Yassa served on a bed of rice with extra veggies.
Due to a feeding schedule around sunrise and sunset and attending social gatherings or celebrations at night, many change their sleep routine. Therefore, during Ramadan sleep quantity and quality may be reduced, specifically an overall decrease in the total sleep time, with sleep quality deteriorating as the month goes on.
It’s natural during this time that performance and physiological adaptations develop:
Small performance impairments, particularly repeated high intensity efforts, tend to be more apparent in the initial days of Ramadan and subside by the end of the month. Mean and peak power during both bike based and running based (repeated sprint test) exercise were decreased during Ramadan, especially when exercise was performed in the afternoon. It could, therefore, be argued that such activities may best be performed shortly after the Iftar to attenuate these small losses. Training late in the day may also optimize nutrition interventions: pre-training energy stores can be fully loaded prior to exercise and post-training recovery nutrition to promote adaptations to the training stimulus, optimize nutrient timing, and help to reduce muscle damage.
Fortunately, aerobic strength and muscular endurance have not shown to be heavily affected. Other markers of performance like strength, jump height, fatigue index and total work were not significantly affected either.
Ironically, the lack of food throughout the day can have little effect on an athlete’s body weight, composition and energy intake with proper performance and nutrition support. Fasting for more than 14 hours for 30 consecutive days can result in an upregulation of key proteins involved in metabolism, immune function, and disease. Body composition has also been analyzed showing body fat can decrease, maintain or even increase depending upon the actual diet consumed during this time. Body fat percentage is generally lower during Ramadan though, with no meaningful change in lean body mass or total body water.
Although not permitted by Islamic law unless athletes are traveling to compete (there are specific exceptions to fasting for travel), some athletes may choose to break the fast during periods of competition and make this up away from competition. The MLS released a statement for Ramadan allowing Muslim players or refs participating in a match around sunset to break their fast and eat or drink again. At a stoppage such as a goal kick or throw in, refs can institute a “drink break” to consume water, sports drink, gels, etc. Any time lost for drink breaks will be added to the end of the half.
At the end of the day, Ramadan is very individualized in terms of sports performance, recovery and nutrition. With support and resources though to help adjust routine, consistency and even improvements in nutrition and performance are possible.
Build a Nutrition Gameplan and Timeline for Ramadan:
Nutrition Gameplan during Ramadan:
Hydrate: Fasting athletes will experience dehydration. 12 hours of fasting for a non-active adult can result in a loss of 800 ml of body water, which for a 70 kg adult is 1% body weight (2% loss would be considered significant). To rehydrate, aim to replace 150% of fluid loss during training considering electrolytes like sodium lost in sweat. Focus on hydration (fluids + electrolytes) from Iftar until Sahur.
Pro Tip: Drink 500ml water, sweet drink, juice to break the fast (Iftar)
Timing: Nutrient timing involves eating foods at strategic times in order to achieve certain outcomes. Carbs are replenished fastest within 30-60 minutes after a workout so an immediate supply of carbs helps maximize glycogen (energy) stores, which can improve performance and recovery. Since working out breaks down protein, post workout protein helps repair and initiate muscle growth, but is better utilized spread equally throughout the day every 3-5 hours, depending on the training schedule.
Pro Tip: Aim for 6-10g/kg body weight of carbs before and after hard intensity sessions
Pro Tip: Aim for 4 x 0.4g/kg body weight of protein at meals and snacks (1.6g/kg body weight per day of protein)
Total: With adequate nutrition support, total energy intake including carbs, protein and hydration can remain the same compared with an athlete’s usual diet. The goal is to maintain energy balance with proper quantities and distribution of macronutrients while maintaining hydration status.
Pro Tip: Practice Performance Plates with 1⁄3 protein to BUILD power + strength, 1⁄3 carbs to
FUEL energy + focus, and 1⁄3 fruits & veggies to PROTECT immunity & health
Type: High training loads (including games) encourage athletes to consume 6-10g per kg body mass of carbohydrate. This would normally be achieved spread throughout a 14 hour feeding window, however, during Ramadan this will need to be achieved predominantly during the Iftar with some contribution during the Sahur. Making deliberate switches to high sugar/glycemic carbs low in residue and fiber can ease gastro-intestinal comfort. Liquid carbs also help reach high energy demands and total requirements. Supplements may also optimize pre/post nutrition such as glycerol solutions for hydration, cold or menthol mouth washes to prevent thirst and creatine, beta alanine or dietary nitrates for muscular performance & recovery
Pro Tip: At Iftar, refuel glycogen stores with carb rich snacks (gels, pasta, rice, bread); At Sahur, top off energy levels with slow releasing carbs like fruits & veggies to maximize the benefits through the day
Nap!: To compensate for altered sleep and wake hours around sunrise and sunset, build a sleep routine that focuses on sleeping prior to midnight (post-Iftar), awakening for Sahur, with regular napping throughout the day.
Pro Tip: Try a morning nap after the Sahur and an afternoon nap prior to Iftar
During the month of Ramadan (March 22, 2023 – April 21, 2023), some players and/or officials in MLS are fasting from sunup to sundown. This means that they will not be consuming food or liquids during the day. Once the sun has gone down, these individuals are able to break their fast and eat or drink again.
In many cases, sundown will occur while the game is in progress. As a result, and to ensure we are able to protect player safety while allowing individuals to observe Ramadan, the following steps will be enacted:
In the Match Coordination Meeting, the Match Director will ask both teams if they have any players who are fasting and will break their fast during the match. If one of the officials is looking to break their fast during the game, this also needs to be communicated at the Match Coordination Meeting.
The club(s) making this request will provide the referee with the time of sundown in the venue city. If one of the officials will be breaking their fast, the official will provide the time of sundown in the venue city.
At a stoppage after sundown (e.g., goal kick, throw-in, etc.), the referee will institute a ‘drinks break’ not to exceed 60 seconds.
Please note that the game will not be stopped during active play to have the ‘drinks break’. 2. It is preferred that break take place during the first stoppage after sundown, however, discretion should be used if the break will provide one team a competitive advantage or disadvantage.
During the ‘drinks break’, players from both teams are permitted to receive hydration or food (e.g., water, sports drink, gel pack, etc.)
Any time lost for the ‘drinks break’ will be added to the end of the half in which the break took place.
Indicate on the match report that a ‘drinks break’ was instituted.”