MOSCOW – Despite being unable to eat or drink during daylight hours throughout Ramadan, Muslim footballers ready to compete in the 2018 World Cup confirmed that training sessions initially weren’t an issue in that international window.
Commenting on this issue, Roel Coumans, former conditioning coach to then-Saudi Arabia manager Bert van Marwijk in 2017, believes that: “It’s more of a problem that you don’t recover well in the days after training. You eat, yet before the next training you don’t have enough fuel in your body and that means you won’t recover for the next training session and the next session will be less intense.”
“Then after seven or eight days there will be a match when you don’t have enough storage,” Coumans concluded in his remark on CNN and Dino Maamria, a former Tunisian professional footballer, who observed Ramadan in his playing days, agrees with him.
The 47-year-old, now a manager in England, says he wouldn’t have recommended the Saudi Arabia players to fast in the lead up to the World Cup and doesn’t think 48 hours are enough time to refuel sufficiently.
“Obviously, back in Tunisia, there was nobody taking advantage of it because everybody was fasting like me. But in England, it was definitely a disadvantage for me while other non-Muslim players had full energy from food and water.”
Islamic Shari`ah already exempts specific cases of Muslims from fasting. Some of these exempted cases include Muslims who travel for long distances and who work on jobs that demand flawless physical needs.
Thus, some Muslim athletes prefer to go with the permission of Shari`ah to make up for the missed fasting days after Ramadan when they won’t be facing the same hard conditions which might have coincided with their fasting month like traveling or competing and performing.
Spiritual Psychological Push
Sports scientist Dr. Craig Duncan, who is now Coumans’ colleague with the Australia national team, believes sleep plays the most vital role in helping fasting players recover.
Unable to replenish their energy supplies with food and drink, rest begins to have an even more important part in eking out every possible ounce of energy.
“However, it needs to be managed very carefully from a physiological perspective so the cultural beliefs can be taken into account and respected but also try and get maximum performance out of it,” Duncan explained.
“You have to manage the sleep and make sure that you maximize that and use the day to allow them to have naps because there is no doubt the fatigue increases because of the absence of the normal cycle of eating.”
Moreover, on the psychological side, Maamria is well-aware of the mental strength of elite athletes who choose to fast during Ramadan, personally knowing the effort and dedication it takes and believes it can carry them through.
“I think on the mental side it drives you to be stronger. It takes a lot of guts to fast and a lot of belief in what you’re doing.”
Biochemically, the spiritual/psychological/neural strength which you get from dedication and devoutness to Ramadan fasting can boost your stamina on the physiological side by a number of hormones in your body which directly affect your muscles in a good and effective biochemical means.
That’s why modern footballers hire psychologists with professional squads to maintain the mental health and strength of players.