This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on March 22nd, from which point Muslims worldwide will observe a traditional period of fasting from dawn until sunset.
For many – including elite athletes – this requires altering aspects of their lifestyle to accommodate routine and dietary changes.
Former discus thrower Abdul Buhari began fasting during Ramadan aged 14 and went on to represent Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Here, he shares his own experiences of training and competing while fasting, and passes on advice to athletes of all faiths who are keen to learn more about the subject.
Read his tips below:
During my time as an elite athlete, I observed Ramadan every year other than when it coincided with the World Championships in 2011, and then the London Games in 2012.
Not fasting on these two occasions was a really difficult decision, as Ramadan is incredibly important to me. But had I fasted, I would have found it tricky to stay in peak condition and perform at my highest level.
After discussions with my wife, family, coach and several imams, we concluded that fasting and competing in top-level athletics just weren’t compatible for me at those championships.
No Muslim wants to miss Ramadan, as it’s such an important month in the Islamic calendar. However, for me to be able to prepare for the championships, I required good nutrition and hydration to fuel training. As Ramadan prescribes that Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, I would not have been able to fulfil this. I did however fast later in the year.
Throughout the majority of my career though, electing to fast during Ramadan simply meant that I had to train after opening my fast, and eat foods that enabled me to retain muscle mass and provide me with the energy needed to train. It was also a good tool to use when I needed to lean out after a big hypertrophy programme.
This year, many Muslim athletes will be doing something very similar. To them, I would say: ‘Be true to yourself.’ By doing so, you will be able to perform at the highest level but also reinforce your beliefs. I believe that elite athletes generally have good instincts, and will therefore make the right decision for themselves.
In my experience, returning to full training after fasting was great. I was leaner, stronger and felt a great cognitive boost to my performance. Fasting also reduced inflammation and increased my recovery speed from tough sessions.
With regards to sporting organisations, I think they could do more for athletes by providing educational materials on Ramadan and the positive effect that it can have on elite athletes. As part of NGBs’ duty of care and responsibility to help bring the best out of their athletes, they need to be both flexible and supportive during the month of Ramadan.
Likewise athletes of other faiths. They can be supportive of their Muslim teammates by listening and being patient, as some Muslim athletes may fatigue quicker during the month. Also, other athletes shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions… or even try a fast themselves if they are up for it!Access our services >