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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-4

Ramadan fast and sports

Department of Physiology, College of Medicine and King Khalid University Hospital, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Date of Web Publication28-May-2013

Correspondence Address:
Abdel Galil M Abdel Gader
Department of Physiology, College of Medicine and King Khalid University Hospital, Riyadh
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1319-6308.112203

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How to cite this article:
Abdel Gader AM. Ramadan fast and sports. Saudi J Sports Med 2013;13:3-4

How to cite this URL:
Abdel Gader AM. Ramadan fast and sports. Saudi J Sports Med [serial online] 2013 [cited 2023 May 31];13:3-4. Available from: https://www.sjosm.org/text.asp?2013/13/1/3/112203

  Introduction Top

During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. In recent years, the effect of such abstention has only been of academic interest to the researchers concerned with fluid and electrolyte balance, particularly when Ramadan falls during the hot summer months. [1] However, two issues emerged that put the Ramadan fast in the forefront of physiological factors influencing the engagement of an individual in physical exercise.

One issue relates to the wide public interest in sports for the maintenance of physical fitness and health and recreation and to what extent does the Ramadan fast affect the rate and frequency of such physical activity. The other issue is the participation of Muslim countries in international competitive sports, particularly the Olympics; this issue has become a concern to the top sports organizing body, The International Olympic Committee (IOC). [2]

This raises the burning question of whether a fasting athlete could compete fairly with non-Muslims who are not fasting, either in individual sport events such as tennis or squash or fencing, or in group sports such as soccer, basketball, volley ball, etc.

The Ramadan fast has triggered numerous researchers to find out to what extent does abstention from food and fluid intake as well as timing of meals affect the performance of athletes in competitive sports? This question emerged prominently during the recent Olympic Games that took place in London in the summer of 2012 during Ramadan and with significant participation from Muslim fasting athletes. Thus, the issue of the Ramadan fast and engagement in competitive sports has become a real concern to those engaged in sports, whether athletes, trainers, or administrators of sport bodies.

Physiological effects of the Ramadan fast

Despite the alteration in the timing of meals during Ramadan, there is general agreement that an ordinary non-sporting person ingests enough food to cover his daily energy needs with no change in the blood levels of the energy substrates, glucose, and fats, or significant weight loss. [3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

As for body weight, wide disagreements feature in the literature and this could be related to the study design, particularly the selection of subjects and the diet consumed. While some studies found a drop in body weight in sedentary subjects as a result of reduction in food (energy) intake during Ramadan, [8],[9] others using both sedentary and active subjects whose energy needs exceeded their normal requirements and surprisingly individuals finished the month of Ramadan with increase in body weight. [10] As theoretically anticipated, this finding should not be the case after a whole month of intermittent abstention from food and drink. [4],[5],[6],[11],[12]

Ramadan fact and physical activity

Studies on the physiological responses of fasting individual to physical activity also reported divergent findings. Most studies found no significant in VO2 max, despite slowing of metabolism, particularly during the day, in order to conserve energy. [9],[13],[14] Yet again, in these studies, the selection of subjects varied from sedentary subjects [9] to elite athletes [14] and the type of exercise also varied from treadmill walking [9] to squat jump, countermovement jump, 30-sec repeated jump, 30-min sprint, to multistage fitness test. [14]

In a cross-over study of 10 moderately trained active athletes tested by 60 min run on the treadmill in fasting state in Ramadan and also in the non-fasting state, Aziz et al. concluded that Ramadan fasting has a small, yet significant negative impact on endurance running performance, although the impact varies across the individuals. [15]

On the assumption that energy and fluid intake is restricted during daytime in Ramadan, there is a tendency to reduce the training load even for elite athletes before the major competitions. However, a recent study found that experienced elite Muslim athletes are able to maintain their usual training load during Ramadan without any effect on their fitness. [16]

The findings of Sweileh et al. [9] of a significant decrease in VO 2 max in the first week of Ramadan with a return to the pre-test levels in the last week, as well as the findings of the other researchers cited above and who did not find significant effect of the Ramadan fast on performance are of interest to the exercise physiologists and nutritionists who design and prescribe special diet and fluids to be consumed, before, during, and after exercise to guarantee the best performance of athletes, especially those engaged in competitive sports.

The effect of Ramadan on performance

In contrast, another study assessing whether Ramadan intermittent fasting (RIF) affected 5000 m running performance and the physiological parameters classically associated with middle-distance performance found that by the end of Ramadan, there was decrease in maximum ventilator capacity (MVC), but there was no effect on the running efficiency or maximal aerobic power. Similarly, significant decrease in athletic performance capacities was also noted in soccer players; [12] this study was performed in young 14-16-year-old soccer players tested before and in the last week of Ramadan. The findings indicate that Ramadan fasting can lead to a significant decrease in athletic performance capacities. The decrease in performance does not necessarily relate to changes in caloric intake and sleeping hours during the fast. In agreement with this finding, two reports on football training in the third week of Ramadan in young players observing Ramadan fast indicate that it had little effect on the objective tests of physical performance (sprint, leg power, agility, aerobic endurance, football-specific skills). [17],[18]

Taken together, despite the wide disagreements, the findings of the studies on the effect of the Ramadan fast on physical performance indicate that the ability of the body physiological systems to adapt has no limits. Adaptation to the changes that occur during Ramadan, particularly in response to the change in the timing of meals, a possible change in food constituents, lengthy, whole day deprivation of fluid intake, and the adjustment in the biological clock, indicates that the ability of the human body to adapt to all these factors and "get along with the job" sees no limits. This could be added to the diverge and well-studied physiological adaptation to cold, heat, high altitude, change in time zones, etc., when athletes are required to participate in competitive sports, particularly international tournaments.

  References Top

1.Mustafa KY, Mahmoud NA, Gumaa KA, Gader AM. The effect of fasting in Ramadan. 2. Fluid and electrolyte balance. Brit J Nutr 1979;40:583-4.   Back to cited text no. 1
2.Maughan RJ, Al-Kharusi W, Binnett MS, et al. Fasting and sports: a summary statement of the IOC workshop.none Br J Sports Med 2012;46:457.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Guma KA, Mustafa KY, Mahmoud NA. et al. The effect of fasting in Ramadan. 2. Serum uric acid and lipid concentrations. Brit J Nutr 1979;40:573-81.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Bouhlel Enone , Salhi Znone , Bouhlel Hnone , Mdella Snone , Amamou Anone , Zaouali Mnone , et al. Effect of Ramadan fasting on fuel oxidation during exercise in trained male rugby players. Diabetes Metabnone 2006;32:617-24.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Reilly Tnone , Waterhouse Jnone . Altered sleep-wake cycles and food intake: the Ramadan model. Physiol Behavnone 2007;90:219-28.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Stannard SR, Thompson MW. The effect of participation in Ramadan on substrate selection during submaximal cycling exercise. J Sci Med Sport 2008;11:510-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Al-Hourani HMnone , Atoum MFnone . Body composition, nutrient intake and physical activity patterns in young women  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Bakhotmah BAl-Hourani HM, Atoum MF. Body composition, nutrient intake and physical activity patterns in young women during Ramadan. Singapore Med J 2007;48:906-10)  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Sweileh N, Schnitzler A, Hunter GR, Davis B. Body composition and energy metabolism in resting and exercising muslims during Ramadan fast. J Sports Med Phys Fitnessnone 1992;32:156-6.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Bakhotmah BAnone . The puzzle of self-reported weight gain in a month of fasting (Ramadan) among a cohort of Saudi families in Jeddah, Western Saudi Arabia. Nutr Jnone 2011;10:84.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Beltaifa Lnone , Bouguerra Rnone , Ben Slama Cnone , Jabrane Hnone , El-Khadhi Anone , Ben Rayana MCnone , Doghri Tnone . [Food intake, and anthropometrical and biological parameters in adult Tunisians during fasting at Ramadan]. East Mediterr Health Jnone 2002;8:603-11.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Meckel Ynone , Ismaeel Anone , Eliakim Anone . The effect of the Ramadan fast on physical performance and dietary habits in adolescent soccer players. Eur J Appl Physiolnone 2008;102:651-7.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Ramadan JMnone , Barac-Nieto Mnone . Cardio-respiratory responses to moderately heavy aerobic exercise during the Ramadan fasts. Saudi Med J 2000;21:238-44.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Chaouachi Anone , Coutts AJnone , Chamari Knone , Wong del Pnone , Chaouachi Mnone , Chtara Mnone , Roky Rnone , Amri Mnone . Effect of Ramadan intermittent fasting on aerobic and anaerobic performance and perception of fatigue in male elite judo athletes. J Strength Cond Resnone 2009;23:2702-9.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Aziz ARnone , Wahid MFnone , Png Wnone , Jesuvadian CVnone . Effects of Ramadan fasting on 60 min of endurance running performance in moderately trained men. Br J Sports Mednone 2010;44:516-21.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Mujika Inone , Chaouachi Anone , Chamari Knone . Precompetition taper and nutritional strategies: special reference to training during Ramadan intermittent fast. Br J Sports Mednone 2010;44:495-501.   Back to cited text no. 16
17.Leiper JBnone , Watson Pnone , Evans Gnone , Dvorak Jnone . Intensity of a training session during Ramadan in fasting and non-fasting Tunisian youth football players. J Sports Scinone 2008;26 (Suppl 3):S71-9.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Maughan RJ, Leiper JB, Bartagi Z, Zrifi R, Zerguini Y, Dvorak J. Effect of Ramadan fasting on some biochemical and haematological parameters in Tunisian youth soccer players undertaking their usual training and competition schedule. J Sports Sci 2008;26 (Suppl 3):S39-46.  Back to cited text no. 18


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