Nutrition is a necessary but often challenging part of life for any athlete. For Muslim athletes, however, it adds an extra level of commitment to the demands of training and competition. During this holy month, athletes who fast for Ramadan are required by their faith to abstain from all fluid and food intake during the hours of dawn to sunset. It goes without saying, then, that exercise performance can easily be affected during this period if strategies aren’t put in place to reduce the effects of fasting to maintain athletic performance. What is Ramadan? Taking place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community, determined by both the Lunar and Solar calendars. Most are familiar with Ramadan as the month during which Muslims fast for 30 days. It includes abstinence from food, drink and sexual relations. How might Ramadan affect Muslim athletes? During Ramadan there are two meals a day – one just before dawn (Suhoor) where Muslims will fuel their body for the fast ahead, and one after sunset (Iftar) that breaks their fast. The evening meal during Ramadan is a special occasion for family get-togethers, and there are also rituals involved with breaking of the fast and various prayers and feasts throughout the night. For Muslim athletes, exercise performance can be compromised due to sleep quality, fuel deficits, dehydration, and changes in body composition. In addition, since the Lunar calendar changes every year, meaning Ramadan comes 11 days earlier each year, fasting during Ramadan can overlap with training, training progression and competition. Timeline of the two meals in a day during Ramadan: Can athletes be exempt from fasting? For context, there are a few reasons that allow non-athletes exemption from fasting such as those with acute illnesses (infection, cold, fever etc.). Once they have recovered, however, they must make-up the days that were not fasted. Elderly people and children before puberty are exempt from fasting. If a woman is either pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating she is exempt from fasting. However, after the pregnancy she will have to make up for the missed days. Individuals with long-term illnesses such as diabetes may not take part in fasting and don’t need to make up for it. Instead, they can donate food or money known as fidya, where a donation is made when a fast is missed. A traveller leaving their home has the option to continue fasting or make-up the missed days after Ramadan. Athletes are encouraged to seek consultation from scholars regarding fasting exemptions as rulings are often prescribed based on circumstance. Effects from Ramadan Fasting and Performance Considerations Fasting has shown implications for both cognitive and physical function (Maughan et al., 2010). This year in the UK, fasts will be between 15−17 hrs. Starting at 15 hrs and extending to 17 hrs by the end of the month. Athletes will change sleep patterns to accommodate their food intake. It is recommended to have a nap in between training and Iftar to help to reduce fatigue (Saad et al., 2021). During exercise while fasting, sweat rates can vary due to the exercise intensity that is being performed and the environment. About 0.3−2.4 L/ hr of sweat can be lost. To replenish, maintain hydration by intaking enough fluid while exercising (only during Suhoor or Iftar) to replace sweat losses. Total body fluid should be approximately <2% BW (ACSM, 2007). Electrolytes should be taken as part of fluid replenishment to help restore sodium loss. Sodium concentration ranges between range 10−70 mEq·L−1 (ACSM, 2007). Intake of Macronutrients Athletes following Ramadan can still consume sufficient amounts of carbohydrate. However, during the fast and in the absence of food or supplementation, the body may use glycogen stores from the skeletal muscles (∼500g) and liver (∼100g). Once these stores have been utilised, the body begins to use fat and protein as energy. Protein contains an amino group, whereas carbohydrates and fats are made up from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Once carbohydrates and fats are oxidised, the result is carbon and water. To oxidise protein, the nitrogen must be removed for it to be converted into carbohydrates and then oxidised (Maclaren and Morton, 2012). Strategies to adjust the amount of carbohydrate taken at Suhoor and Iftar can be manipulated to promote carbohydrate availability in relation to training. While carbohydrate intake may not be optimised in terms of timing and type, the total carbohydrate requirements can be achieved when the fast is broken. Dependent on the exercise intensity and duration, carbohydrate intake needs fluctuate (ACSM, 2009). Table: Carbohydrate intake in relation to exercise intensity Protein is needed to support metabolic adaptation and repair muscle. To promote muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the intake of protein should be within 24 hrs after completing exercise. The recommended daily intake of protein is 0.25-0.3g/kg body weight (ACSM, 2009). Spacing protein about every 3 – 4 hrs during the day has been shown to be the best feeding pattern to optimize MPS. This is also shown to be the most favourable eating pattern during a 12 hr recovery feeding period, after a 12 hr fast period (Areta et al. 2013). Given the important roles of these macronutrients for health and performance, it may be beneficial for Muslim athletes to understand how much carbohydrate and protein is best to support training, performance and development goals. Supplementation During Ramadan Protein20 To break the fast, athletes observing Ramadan are advised to eat a carbohydrate and protein dense pre-dawn meal and are encouraged to further supplement their protein intake. A protein bar available in three flavours, Protein20 is a convenient option made with a high-quality plant protein blend that delivers 20g of protein. Having a variety of formats and flavours is another plus for those observing Ramadan, with snack bars being an easy way for Muslim athletes to meet their recommended daily intake of protein around the fast. REGO Rapid Recovery For those training during Ramadan, it is advised that athletes look to replenish depleted glycogen stores as soon as possible, with a post-sunset recovery shake proving to be a popular choice. REGO Rapid Recovery contains both 22g carbohydrate and 20g protein, with electrolytes, vitamins and minerals to provide a complete food supplement. High quality soy protein and the addition of 2g Leucine, as well as vitamins and minerals, support Muslim athletes by contributing to normal muscle function and protein synthesis. Electrolytes are added for rehydration purposes to replace what you’ve lost throughout the day, and by sweating, also increasing your body’s ability to absorb water. Hydro For those who choose to reduce their physical activity during Ramadan, maintaining the body’s fluid balance is still a challenge. Electrolytes including sodium, potassium and magnesium are lost through sweat and need to be replaced to help the body to be optimally hydrated. Hydro is an easy and convenient way to replenish electrolytes. Simply add one Hydro tablet to 500ml of water and dissolve, with a maximum of 4 tablets to be consumed within 24 hours, during Sohoor and Iftar. Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection and teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline. It can be difficult for athletes to perform at their full capacity during this time. Many athletes have developed individualized strategies to mitigate performance deficits. In addition to learning and implementing fuelling strategies, the month of Ramadan should be used as an opportunity to make a fresh start in developing a caring, positive and productive personality. Ramadan Mubarak! Written by Haroon Mota, founder of Active Inclusion Network CIC. As part of his work within the Islamic community, Haroon champions diversity, founding Muslim Hikers and has been an SiS ambassador since 2021. References American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka MN, Burke LM, Eichner ER, Maughan RJ, Montain SJ, Stachenfeld NS. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Feb;39(2):377-90. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597. PMID: 17277604. Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W., Broad, E. M., Jeacocke, N. A., Moore, D. R., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of physiology, 591(9), 2319–2331. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.244897 Burke, L.M., Castell, L.M., Casa, D.J., Close, G.L., Costa, R.J.S., Desbrow, B., Halson, S.L., Lis, D.M., Melin, A.K., Peeling, P., Saunders, P.U., Slater, G.J., Sygo, J., Witard, O.C., Bermon, S. and Stellingwerff, T. (2019). International Association of Athletics Federations Consensus Statement 2019: Nutrition for Athletics. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), pp.73–84. Chamari, K., Roussi, M., Bragazzi, N. and Chaouachi, A. (2020). Optimizing training and competition during the month of Ramadan: Recommendations for a holistic and personalized approach for the fasting athletes. ResearchGate, 97. 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Br J Sports Med. 2010 Jun;44(7):490-4. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2010.072181 Saad, M., Kasper, A. and Close, G. (2021). RAMADAN & SPORTS PERFORMANCE. Nutrition X, [online] pp.1–14. Available at: https://www.nutritionx.co.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/The-Nutrition-X-Change-Vol.-7-Ramadan-and-Sports-Performance-1.pdf. Written By siscontributor Our wider network of athletes, scientists and sports journalists who are hand-picked to share their expertise and experiences with the Science in Sport Community.