Fasting is the practice of not eating for an extended period of time. Some people fast as part of a diet, a practice is known as intermittent fasting. During Ramadan, however, many Muslims fast as part of their faith. “How do Muslim footballers fast?” one might ask. In the following blog, we will delve deeper into this sensitive subject.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims all over the world observe it. The event commemorates Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramadan is considered one of Islam’s Five Pillars. It lasts 29 or 30 days from one crescent moon sighting to the next. Ramadan is a month of spiritual introspection, self-improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Muslims also abstain from tobacco, sexual relations, and all other sinful behavior and instead focus on prayer.
Fasting from sunrise to sunset is an important aspect of Ramadan. Muslims believe that fasting teaches them self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, encouraging them to be generous. It is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are not acutely or chronically ill, traveling, elderly, breastfeeding, or diabetic. As a result, Muslim footballers fast because they are obligated to and because it is part of their religion. Some football clubs, however, may discourage fasting because it affects performance.
Do all Muslim Footballers Fast?
Many Muslim footballers are at the pinnacle of their profession. Among them are Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, and Granit Xhaka. Fasting during Ramadan can be difficult for footballers due to dehydration and lack of energy. This has the potential to make training and matches more difficult.
Overall, some Muslim footballers fast, whereas others do not because they are traveling or have an ‘adequate need’ to consume food and drink during the day. It is not a matter of religious beliefs or devotion but of personal preference. Some players choose to delay or limit their fasting in order to continue playing at the highest level, whereas others believe that fasting does not affect their performance, gives them mental clarity, allows them to think differently in the short term, and does not negatively affect their performance.
Ramadan occurs at a different time each year, but it is usually between the months of April and June. This is difficult because the days are so long in the spring and summer, so Muslims fast for more than 12 hours, leaving little time for eating and drinking. This occurs near the end of the season in the European leagues of football.
In some cases, Muslim footballers are fortunate because the season ends during Ramadan. That is, the majority of their fasting can be completed during the off-season. However, the end of the season is also when some clubs have their most important fixtures, such as cup finals, making the decision to fast more difficult. Ramadan fell during the World Cup in Russia in 2018, leaving many players conflicted.
How did Muslim Footballers Fast during the 2018 World Cup?
Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran had a particularly difficult 2018 World Cup because the majority of their players chose too fast. The coaches and nutritionists had to be inventive in their preparation, which included shorter training sessions and evening workouts.
Elite football clubs are accustomed to the situation, as many of the world’s best players are Muslim. They limit these players’ sessions and position training to the mornings and evenings. This is done to refuel players before the first session and after the final session.
Former Egypt defender Abdel-Zaher El-Saqqa stated that he actually played better during Ramadan. The spiritual aspect of fasting can help players focus. In the short term, the negative effects of a lack of food and drink are often primarily psychological. The Tunisian football team employed a more devious strategy. Their group games began in the evening, so the sunset occurred during the game.
In two of their three games, the Tunisian goalkeeper went down with an injury around the 55th minute. The game would be halted while medical personnel attended to the goalkeeper. This provided an opportunity for all players to drink water and eat sugary snacks. Before the game restarted, eat dates and energy gels. This allowed players to refuel without breaking their fast, which had a fantastic effect in one case. Tunisia was trailing Portugal 2-1 at the time of the stoppage for refueling, but they unexpectedly drew level and finished the game 2-2.
Some players chose to postpone their fasting until after the World Cup. Others chose not to fast because of their travel and the importance of their jobs. This is perfectly fine for Muslim footballers, and it is entirely a personal choice that should be respected. Ramadan coincided with a small portion of the 2014 World Cup. As a result, players like Ozil, Xhaka, and Shaqiri decided to postpone their fast.
This was due to fitness concerns and dehydration issues in Brazil’s extreme heat. Algerian players in the same tournament decided to continue fasting. Even in their last-16 match against Germany, one of the country’s most important games in its history. Despite the fact that it was still before sunset at halftime, some players broke their fast in order to have more energy for the second half.
Examples of Muslim Footballers Fasting in Games
Mohamed Salah & Sadio Mane
Jurgen Klopp had to deal with his two best players observing Ramadan in both 2018 and 2019. This occurred as his team prepared for the most important game in club football, the Champions League final. When asked about this, Klopp stated unequivocally that a person’s decision to fast is private and personal and would not be influenced or discussed by him. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane were the two players in question. Salah had fasted throughout the preparations for both games, it was later revealed in the three days leading up to the games, he replenished throughout the day to be as prepared as possible.
Salah took a sip of water before sunset in Madrid in 2019 after scoring an early penalty on Liverpool’s way to their sixth European Cup, indicating that he may not have strictly followed fasting. It is unclear whether Sadio Mane took the same approach in 2019, but it is believed that Mane did fast the year before in Kyiv and thus played the final without eating or drinking during the day. Mane was one of Liverpool’s best players and scored the only goal in that game.
Hakim Ziyech & Noussair Mazraoui
Another instance of fasting players occurred during the 2019 Champions League semi-final between Ajax and Tottenham. The Ajax players who observed the tradition were Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui, who were seen drinking water and energy drinks midway through the game after sunset. In such a large game, the players had to make a big decision. Unfortunately, they were defeated after an incredible comeback by Tottenham. Prior to the game,
Fasting, according to Dutch fitness guru Raymond Verheijen, would be irresponsible of the Ajax players, and professional footballers should not fast while playing their sport. Muslim footballers were outraged, and many condemned the remarks. Despite the late defeat, fasting did not appear to affect the players’ performances, and Ziyech scored for Ajax shortly after refueling in the first half.
Overall, Muslim footballers fasting does not appear to have a significant impact on their performance. This may come as a surprise given that nutritionists in modern football, particularly at the elite level, try to find any way to give their players a slight advantage on the field, down to the smallest details of what and when to eat and drink. It appears strange that, despite the importance placed on diet and training, Muslim athletes can fast and still perform admirably.
Of course, Ramadan only lasts about a month, and if the fasting pattern continued for longer periods of time, we would likely see the effects on the players more clearly. Furthermore, the impact on footballers’ mentality must be considered. Elite football clubs employ psychologists, and Ramadan is a time for spirituality, self-enlightenment, and personal development.
It’s impossible to say whether a footballer’s nutritional or mental preparation is more important. Perhaps the issues with energy or hydration can be offset by the feelings that players experience while fasting. That is, players may feel more determined, humbled, and connected to God.
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