Here’s How 15 Hardcore Athletes Train During Ramadan



ramadan

Health

Competitive athletes from around the world tell us how they
stay in fighting shape while fasting for Ramadan.

Posted on June 18, 2017, 15:01 GMT

Courtesy of Kateryna Tayterenko, Matthew Jurysta, Frederick
Breedon / Getty Images, Mohammad Ismail / Reuters
Images

Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic
calendar — the month when God, according to Islamic
belief, revealed the Qur’an and when Muslims observe the
practice of fasting. To fast, they abstain from food, drink,
smoking, and intimate relations from sunrise until sundown;
this summer that time span can last over 18 hours. At sunset,
family and friends gather to break their fasts, replenishing
their spiritual selves.

There are exceptions for those who are sick, elderly,
pregnant, nursing, or traveling. But for many amateur and
professional athletes, who can’t take time off from training
or competition for the full 30 days, participating in the
ritual can prove tricky.

So how do those in the world of sports stay observant? This
isn’t a new question, but there’s still a lot of misinformation out there on the subject.
BuzzFeed News interviewed 15 Muslim athletes to learn why
they fast, how their bodies handle thirst and exhaustion
— and how they navigate the intensity of this important
month.

1. Husain Abdullah

Frederick Breedon / Getty Images

Husain Abdullah is a former safety for
the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. Since retiring,
he’s become an author and public speaker. He’s proudly
demonstrated his faith on the field (Abdullah famously
received a penalty for a celebratory
post-touchdown prostration) and relied on it to get him
through Ramadan, during which he would fast and train. Hard.
Like, NFL hard. And, of course, he also tweaked his
day-to-day lifestyle. “While I was playing in the NFL I
had to adjust my diet, workouts, and sleep schedule. It took
a lot of preparation but Allah guided me through,”
he
told BuzzFeed News. During Ramadan, Abdullah stays away from
greasy, fatty, and heavily seasoned foods. He also cuts out
sweets, desserts, caffeine, sodas, and juices high in sugar.
In fact, his fluid intake is centered around performance,
recovery, and staying as hydrated as possible. He drinks
alkaline water and coconut water for hydration, and pickle
juice, Gatorade, and Pedialyte to keep his electrolytes
balanced.

Abdullah’s strategies and faith came through. During his
third year in the NFL, Abdullah fasted through training camp,
participating in two practices a day. He outplayed two other
competitors to win the starting safety position for the
Minnesota Vikings — all while he was fasting.

The month of Ramadan is triathlete Khadijah Diggs’ favorite time of the
year. She says it is a reminder that being an athlete is a
gift. Her favorite distance, and the one she used to qualify
for Team USA, is the 70.3, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim,
56-mile bike ride, and a 13-mile run. During Ramadan she
switches over to sprint triathlons, which, while shorter, are
still hardcore (consisting of a half-mile swim, a 12-mile
bike race, and 3.1-mile run). NBD but Diggs won first
place in the Sweetwater Super Sprint in 2016. WHILE
FASTING.

Diggs, who’s 48, says that the focus on fasting and prayer
during Ramadan actually aids her training by helping her
reflect on both her opportunities and responsibilities as an
athlete.

As an endurance athlete who competes in events that require
hours of exertion, Diggs’ main challenge during Ramadan is to
maintain as much muscle mass as possible even while fasting.
To do this, Diggs maintains her weight training schedule and
preps her meals to make sure she’s getting the calories and
protein she needs to fuel her training and recovery. She eats
a hearty breakfast including eggs and pancakes with protein
powder or toast with cheese and avocado. She also likes
leftover Chinese food. (Who doesn’t?)

In 2017, Amaiya Zafar became the first woman in
the United States to be granted the right to fight while
wearing a hijab. She was 16 years old at the time.

During Ramadan, Zafar’s schedule stays more or less the same,
but she’s aware that she must pace herself to avoid getting
sick. Her favorite post-iftar foods are dates.

This year, Zafar will have compete during Ramadan. “That
will be a huge test of my endurance, mental strength, and
dedication,” she says.

4. Kulsoom Abdullah

Courtesy of Kulsoom Abdullah

Kulsoom Abdullah is a data scientist and an Olympic
weight lifter who was the first woman to lift at the
US championships while covered. Totally badass. Abdullah
says that her two biggest challenges during Ramadan are 1)
not drinking water and 2) explaining to people who are
unfamiliar with Ramadan that she’s not drinking water
(a
hilarious and frustrating experience).

Despite the no-water situation, she set a personal record
for her deadlift while fasting
— and learned a lot about
her own physical and mental toughness: “It is not necessarily
the PR on the deadlift that I think is a great
accomplishment. I am reminded that I have the stamina to get
through tough challenges and situations — that I can do a lot
more than I think I can.”

5. Tarek Elrich

Tony Feder / Getty Images

Tarek Elrich is a defender for Adelaide United Football Club. He has
been fasting and playing soccer since he was in grade school.
(One of his favorite soccer memories is from the first grade
when he played and scored while fasting.) As a professional
player, he gets up early so he can hydrate and eat plenty of
dates. Elrich says Ramadan is “peaceful” and brings a deep
sense of gratitude.
His team supports his choices and his
practice of faith. Though he’s recovering from a torn
ligament and is undergoing intensive physiotherapy, Elrich
still trains five days a week. He thinks it’s important to
“get closer to God.”

6. Amani Ammoura

Courtesy of Amani Ammouri

Amani Ammoura is a Jordanian cyclist who
has worked with organizations to amplify awareness of Muslim
women in sports. Although she isn’t competing this month, she
continues to train during Ramadan, riding along the rolling
and rugged hills and roads outside Amman. Ammoura says
that during Ramadan her main goal is to maintain her fitness
rather than to push herself.
She trains two hours before
iftar so that she can be done by sunset and immediately
compensate for the amount of water she lost not only during
training, but from fasting for 16 to17 hours during the hot
summer. Her second option is to train two hours after iftar.
In this case, she eats her primary meal after the workout and
opts for something light for iftar. She chooses dates, soups,
and fresh salads in lieu of heavier foods. Ammoura says
suhoor is crucial and she never skips it.

Manal Rostom is an aspiring mountaineer
who is vying to be the first Egyptian woman to complete all
seven summits. Rostom says the first
challenge is surviving the morning without coffee. Totally
understandable. She lives in the UAE and the high
temperatures obviously make her thirsty. She is a fitness
instructor and teaches up to three classes a day — but only
after iftar. She schedules her own training an hour before
iftar or a 5,000-meter run after Tarawih prayers later at
night. Rostom loves eating dates and raw nuts. Occasionally,
she will have homemade knafeh but prefers to stick to
healthier options. Rostom sees Ramadan as a month to push
through with a positive mental attitude. She says that
colleagues praise her efforts to teach and work out during
Ramadan, but she remains grounded. “[They] don’t get how
easy it becomes once you reset your mind to literally just do
it. You will survive. Fasting trains you to become a better
human being.”

Hajra Khan is the captain of Pakistan
women’s team and the first Pakistani female player to play
professional soccer abroad. Khan wakes up early to get
nutrients into her system during Ramadan, and believes proper
hydration is key. After training on the pitch, when others
drink water immediately, she needs to “hang on awhile longer”
before she can refuel. Match days can be more difficult, but
Khan says she has developed personal coping strategies over
time to avoid letting physical exhaustion become detrimental
to her game. When it comes to her faith, fasting “only makes
it stronger,” she says. Khan has either been at training camp
or touring for the last three years — away from family during
Ramadan and Eid. In 2015, while training in Germany with top
professional soccer teams, Khan observed fasts that lasted
nearly 20 hours. “The Germans were curious,” she says.
“They saw me praying in the dressing room and were
inquisitive. They wanted to know and learn more about this
practice and Islam, and I was happy to share.”

9. Adil Anwar

Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Adil Anwar is a powerhouse boxer who
chooses not to fight while observing Ramadan. He thinks going
into a fight while even slightly depleted can be dangerous.
Instead, Anwar uses the month to both spiritually and
physically detox, and says he is “usually in the best shape a
few weeks after Ramadan … if I don’t overeat on Eid, that
is.”
We feel that struggle. Anwar’s favorite foods are
dates, with which he breaks his fast. He loves the tiny dried
fruit and stocks his home with boxes of them.

10. Masooma Alizada

Mohammad Ismail / Reuters Images

Masooma Alizada is a 20-year-old Afghan cyclist, currently
training with her sister Zahra in France, where they are
known as “les petites reines de Kaboul” (the small Queens of
Kabul). Previously, Alizada had been part of Afghanistan’s Women’s National Cycling
Team. She observes Ramadan and continues to compete and
train throughout the month. She has one race this month in
the south of France called the Albigeoise. Normally, Alizada
trains after suhoor for two hours. She stays away from
carbonated beverages and sugary drinks but loves eating
bolani, a traditional Afghan bread. Alizada says that she
enjoys Ramadan and maintains that “it is not a month of not
eating and drinking. Ramadan is the month to abstain from
sins and bad actions.”

11. Rahaf Khatib

James Farrell / Women’s Running

In 2016,
Rahaf Khatib was Women’s Running magazine’s first

hijabi cover girl, inspiring legions of people to lace
up. This mother of three chooses to fast during Ramadan, but
she doesn’t race and while she continues to train rigorously,
she decreases her milage. If she does run outdoors, she
sticks to a slower pace. Khatib swims while fasting,
following low-intensity and low-impact workouts. At iftar,
Khatib drinks coconut water to rehydrate, and at suhoor, she
prepares protein smoothies, along with multigrain bread
smeared with either Greek yogurt mixed with chia seeds or
almond butter. But during Ramadan, Khatib’s priority isn’t
food — it’s her spirituality, deep devotion, and practice of
worship. Exercise helps with this, she says: “I find
myself to be more spiritual and focused in my prayers when my
run is completed for the day. It rejuvenates, refreshes, and
energizes me for the long night ahead.”

12. Nadia Nadim

Martin Rose / Getty Images

Nadia Nadim is a professional soccer
player in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with the
top-ranked team Portland Thorns FC, and also plays for
Denmark’s national women’s team. But she doesn’t just kill it
on the pitch — Nadim is also a medical student. She fasts
on training days but not on match days. “I know my body can’t
handle it,” she says, because hydration and nutrition dictate
her performance
. The toughest part of fasting, she says,
is the two hours before the fast breaks when time seems to
move so slowly.

Ramadan, the time “family comes together,” makes Nadim feel
“closer to God.” She enjoys eating with family and community,
and savors her favorite iftar food, pakoras (deep-fried
potatoes in whole wheat flour batter).

13. Indira Kaljo

Courtesy of Alicia Kolenovic

Indira Kaljo is a former Division 1 NCAA basketball
player, currently working as an educator, coach, and mentor.
The 29-year-old powerhouse runs a
nonprofit that empowers young Muslim girls through
sports. Kaljo spearheaded a
campaign to get FIBA to rescind its hijab ban —
which they did. She no longer plays competitively but
tells BuzzFeed News that as an active baller, she fasted and
trained while competing, although her coaches permitted her
to take more breaks during practice and didn’t make her run
the sprint drills. Still, the lack of water was hard. “The
biggest challenge was waiting through the water breaks. Those
minutes were very difficult. The second [most difficult]
thing was the late nights and then having to practice daily
feeling exhausted.”
The most powerful thing that helped
her get through the month? “Prayer. I used prayer.”

14. Stephanie Kurlow

Courtesy of Kateryna Tytarenko

Stephanie Kurlow is a 15-year-old dancer
who trains 25 hours a week and keeps the same rigorous
schedule during Ramadan. She takes short breaks between
classes and tries not to push her limits too hard. “Waking
up early before Fajr [sunrise] to eat is crucial for me. The
food I eat in the morning is the food that will keep me
energized throughout the day so I try my best to create a
large healthy breakfast.”
She credits chia seeds in her
pre-dawn meal for keeping her full throughout the day. Kurlow
feels strongly that Ramadan is about connecting with friends
and family and sharing good food.

15. Hussein Hashi

Courtesy of Matthew Jurysta

Hussein Hashi is a long-distance runner
who has been running and fasting since he was young. During
Ramadan, Hashi reduces his weekly mileage and commits to
running before iftar so he is able to put fluids and protein
back into his system. He says that this system works for him
because “mentally, [it’s] easy to shoot for.” Hashi attends
extra prayers at night during Ramadan and uses the time to
reflect on his previous year. Hashi thinks back to one
specific year at training camp when his team (many of who
were not Muslims) decided to fast with him. “It was nice to
see that kind of solidarity among fellow teammates,” he says.
“It was also a positive experience for them. … They still
continue that tradition.”
The Islamic year is based on a
lunar calendar, which means that the months begin 12 days
earlier every year. Because his race dates are also set well
in advance, Hashi is able to prepare for fasting and training
simultaneously. But Hashi isn’t all work and no play. He
loves dates and samosas.

Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and sports
activist who focuses on Muslim women, and the intersections
of racism and misogyny in sports. Her work has been
featured and discussed in various media outlets. When she
isn't watching soccer, she drinks coffee as tool of
resistance. Shireen is currently working on her first book.
She lives in Toronto with her family and two amazing cats,
Sitara and Zeytoun.

Contact Shireen Ahmed at footybedsheets@gmail.com.


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