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Ramadan & Sports: Challenge for Muslim Athletes?

Some sports events coincide with the month of Ramadan and Muslim athletes are worried about the possibility of having the games conflict with fasting. In an attempt to address this important issue and find an answer, let me start with the story of Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister. Athletes will probably know this man very well.

Sir Bannister was the first man in history to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. The whole story started during the Helsinki 1952 Olympics when he came fourth. Young Robert was devastated, he even considered giving up running for good. But, overcoming his frustration, he came out of his experience with a new challenge: He decided to be the first athlete to run a mile in less than four minutes.

At that time, scientists and sportsmen were convinced that this goal was totally unachievable, it was out of human reach, they claimed. Young Robert didn’t surrender to this myth, though. He intensified his training and after two years, specifically on May 6, 1954, Robert Bannister entered Guinness record.

But, wait a minute, this is not the reason, our young Robert became so well known. Sir Bannister is now famous not for being the first man to run the mile under four minutes, instead, he is famous for being the man who held a Guinness record for the least amount of time. Only 46 days later, young Robert’s record was broken by the Australian athlete John Landy.

All Bannister had to do is to actually prove that this goal is achievable. By doing that, he helped correcting a long-held erroneous belief that crippled athletes for years. Bannister didn’t just change athletes’ record, he changed their mindset, he shifted their perception and opened the door for a whole new paradigm shift, a phenomenon widely known nowadays among human development coaches as “The Bannister effect”.

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This story is a powerful example of mind over matter ability. It proves that the impossible is only what you perceive as impossible. Studies show that that an energy or power bar will only boost the athlete performance and power if he/she ‘believes’ that it will.[1]

History is the best proof of the amazing power, endurance and performance achieved by Muslims during their fasting in Ramadan. We have our own ‘Bannister effect’ from the rich historical records, starting with the first Ramadan that Muslims ever fasted.

In 624 AC, the amazing power of mind/body connection was crystal clear during the battle of Badr. Fasting Muslims were able to fight and win in this historical event against the infidels of Makkah.

In 710, also in Ramadan, Muslims led by Tarek bin Ziyad, defeated King Roderick and entered the Iberian Peninsula starting the amazing Islamic rule over Andalusia that lasted for 800 years spreading Islam and civilization through Africa and Europe.

In 1260, Mamluk Sultan Qutuz led the Egyptian army in the battle of Ain Jalut that defeated the so-called undefeatable Mongols in Palestine and ended decades of Muslim torture and misery [2], and even the devastating Mongol conquests against Europe and Asia.

Additionally, in our modern history, on the 6th of October, 10th of Ramada, 1973, the Egyptian army fought the Israelis, destroyed the legendary Bar Lev line and crossed the Suez Canal to the occupied land of Sinai while Muslims soldiers were fasting.

Science falls short of explaining this amazing endurance and performance by fasting Muslims over the course of history. The ‘Bannister effect’ may prove the power of mind over body and show us the amazing power of our subconscious over our physiology, yet, it doesn’t take into account the tremendous blessing of these holy days.

Research shows that intention is an extremely powerful tool. It’s actually the single best subconscious mind programmer.

And, during the holy month of Ramadan, with our sincere intention, our body could be programmed to adjust its physiology achieving miracles way beyond merely withstanding and tolerating fasting. With simple yet sincere intention, we are programming our subconscious mind for affecting a whole physiological change and endurance.

There is much more to Ramadan than just physical fasting or even soul purification. As we saw, historical evidences have proven beyond any doubts how a sincere fasting intention can achieve miracles, how it can boost endurance and empower both mental and physical performance. I can’t afford here but to recall God’s words:

{Should not He Who has created know? And He is the Most Kind and Courteous, All-Aware (of everything).} (Surah Al-Mulk – 67:14)

Useful Tips for Athletes

If you want concrete science that backs up the idea that you can fast and still compete at your peak performance, you won’t find much, sorry. But, science does change position frequently.

Opinions and theories about what and when to eat before an athletic competition have changed dramatically many times during the past decade. Till recently, for instance, nutritionists would advise against eating carbohydrates before the event fearing that it will induce insulin release and mess up with your blood sugar levels.

Now, however, nutritionists advise athletes to eat carbohydrates prior to the competition to fuel their muscle reserve.

Still, studies show that the effect of food and diet on athlete’s performance is a totally individualistic concept, it differs from a person to another and even from a circumstance to another depending on hundreds of factors, the most important of which is the athlete’s belief and mental perception.

So, as Smolin and Grosvenor advised, “athletes should test the effect of pre-competition meals during training, not during competition.”[3]

Finally, I want to emphasize here that along with our mental programming, our physical body needs to be well taken care of.

Islam is a religion of balance and moderation that advocates assuming all worldly means along with spiritual, mental and emotional tools. A very well-balanced diet that meets all the athlete’s nutrients and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) needs is essential for optimum performance. Athletes can still get all their nutritional needs during their non-fasting hours.

Make sure to eat nutrient dense food with high carbohydrate content to replenish your glycogen reserve in the muscle (your body uses this glycogen reserve to fuel energy during exercise).

Avoid refined carbohydrates and simple sugars. Instead, consume whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes. And most importantly, drink a lot during suhoor to ensure good hydration throughout the day.

This article is from Science’s archive, originally published on an earlier date.


[1] Smolin & Govner. 1997. Nutrition: science and applications. Saunders College Publishing.

[2] As-Sergany, R. n.d.

[3] Smolin & Govner. 1997. Nutrition: science and applications. Saunders College Publishing.

About Amira Ayad
Amira Ayad is a natural health consultant and a holistic nutritionist. She holds a Master Degree in Pharmaceutics; and a PhD in natural health. She is a Board Certified Holistic Health practitioner by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) and a Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner by the International organization of Nutrition Consultants (IONC). She published 2 books: Healing Body & Soul, in 2008; and, The True Secret, in 2011. Amira teaches Biochemistry & Body Metabolism at The Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto, Canada.