Ramadan dilemma for Muslim athletes

Ramadan dilemma for Muslim athletes

LONDON - Reuters
Ramadan dilemma for Muslim athletes

Some 3,000 Muslim athletes will compete in this year’s London Olympics. REUTERS photo

The coincidence of Ramadan this year with the London Olympics, which starts on July 27, a week into the month-long Muslim fast, has thrown up a dilemma for the estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes.

Medical experts say that, theoretically at least, a reduction of food intake during Ramadan could deplete an athlete’s liver and muscle glycogen stores. This is likely to lead to a drop in performance, particularly in sports requiring muscle strength.

The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) nutrition working group convened a meeting in 2009 to review the evidence. They concluded that Ramadan fasting could be problematic for some athletes in some sports, but the likely overall impact of Ramadan on London 2012 is far from clear.

Ronald Maughan, a sports scientist from Britain’s Loughborough University who chaired the IOC working group, agrees some physical changes are likely. However, he also noted that observing the Muslim holy month involves mental and spiritual discipline, the effects of which should not be underestimated. “Some Muslim athletes say they perform better during Ramadan even if they are fasting because it’s a very spiritual time for them,” he told Reuters.

Another study published in the BJSM in 2010 concluded that “Ramadan fasting had an adverse effect on performance, albeit small in magnitude, during 60 minutes of endurance treadmill running” by moderately trained Muslim men.