RICHMOND – As the holy month approaches its final third, many are curious how professional Muslim athletes are able to handle Ramadan fasting and prayers while maintaining good performance in their teams.
“Playing footy while fasting is not easy, but you have to do it. It’s a month that you feel better for,” Hisham Kerbatieh, who plays for Coburg in the VFL, told The New Daily.
Kerbatieh, like other AFL Muslim players, including Bachar Houli and Adam Saad, fasts during Ramadan.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started on Saturday, May 27.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
For Houli, Saad, Kerbatieh and the other Muslim professional athletes, the commitment to their faith adds an extra level of dedication and willpower to an already highly demanding career.
They wake at 4.30am in the Australian winter to eat and drink before the sun rises, trying to give their bodies the fuel they need to get them through a day, whether that includes training – or a game.
Kerbatieh said Ramadan is about commitment and discipline, and playing high-level sport while fasting is more of a mental test than a physical one.
For his part, Houli has become a standard bearer not only for Muslims playing sport, but for the broader community.
“It’s a way to excel and become better as a person, and a better person that’s connected with God, and hopefully for the rest of the year I can be that better person,” Houli told SBS World News when discussing Ramadan earlier this month.
Waking up for suhoor, Muslim athletes are very good at eating the right sorts of food.
“They’ll ensure that before sunrise they have a good breakfast to get them through the day and then they have a good meal after sunset, including carbs, protein and vegetables,” Richmond Football Club dietitian Kylie Andrew told The New Daily.
“It’s really about making sure they’ve got enough carbohydrates on board.
“They’re quite used to going without water during the day [but] they have to be really clever about when they’re getting their fluids in so that they’re not constantly walking around in a dehydrated state.
“[But] dehydration has some negative impacts on performance and certainly they wouldn’t be feeling too flash after a game.”
Houli said Ramadan has one plus for him to achieve a slight weight loss, around 1-1.5 kilograms.
“I generally feel nice and light. In terms of energy levels, nothing changes,” he added.
Saad believes that the extra effort he puts in to maintain his athletic performance during Ramadan helps his overall focus.