Ensuring optimum sports performance during Ramadan with exercise and right diet, says Kayal

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Eman Kayal — a Jeddah-based trainer, and presenter for Les Mills Middle East, advises athletes to have a healthy diet and proper nutrition if they want to ensure high fitness levels during Ramadan.

Athletes and sportspersons from around the globe including Real Madrid’s key striker Karim Benzema, professional basketball player Kyrie Irving, and Mainz defender Moussa Niakhate are observing the holy month of Ramadan.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Benzema scored his second hat-trick in the Champions League 2021-22 season, resulting in Real Madrid defeating Chelsea 3-1 in London – and he achieved this feat while fasting.

Many professional sports persons in the UAE are also fasting while playing tournaments during the holy month. Even as games are happening in full swing, these players are fulfilling their religious duties and still giving excellent performances. For many, it is difficult to comprehend how this is achievable.

While many studies have indicated that observing Ramadan may have an adverse impact on players’ athletic abilities, including declines in speed, agility, and endurance, other researchers have concluded differently. A 2008 study of Tunisian soccer players titled – The influence of Ramadan on physical performance measures in young Muslim footballers — established that when training load was maintained, sprint performance was better during Ramadan in comparison with pre-Ramadan days.

Les Mills, a global leader in group fitness, is trying to make different forms of workouts easily accessible to people even in the confines of their homes with high intensity, fun workout videos to create a fitter planet. Such tools come in handy, especially during a month like Ramadan when people tend to not go out as much for their routine exercise.

Eman Kayal — a Jeddah-based trainer, and presenter for Les Mills Middle East agrees. She advises athletes to have a healthy diet and proper nutrition if they want to ensure high fitness levels.

“The right diet and nutrition are key to maintaining your fitness levels. Keep hydrated as it is very easy to forget drinking the required quantity of water during Ramadan. A good night’s sleep is equally important, one should target 8 hours of sleep every night.”

She further says that Ramadan can be a great opportunity for athletes to lose weight if approached correctly.

“Doing cardio usually burns more calories while you are fasting. However, it must be timed prior to iftar since you need to have proper nutrition after a maximum of 30 to 40 minutes following your cardio session, otherwise, no real results can be achieved.”

According to Kayal, using the hour before iftar for exercise is good practice since it is usually free from social obligations, which normally intensify in Middle Eastern culture during Ramadan.

“Exercising while fasting can help lose weight, as the results amplify during fasting. At Les Mills, our workouts are designed keeping various considerations in mind, including the state of fasting. The short format of Les Mills body attack, combat, and body balance sessions directly before Iftar and strength or weight training like body pump post breaking the fast will allow the body to optimally benefit from the exercise,” she adds.

Ramadan is also a time when those observing daily fasts are required to practice self-restraint and discipline. This means eating in excess or going overboard with oily or unhealthy foods must be strictly avoided. Kayal recommends eating light, “Try to eat light foods with controlled portions for Iftar to avoid sluggishness. Keep fueling yourself after Iftar with healthy snacks and fruits to be able to perform well during the exercises.”

Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal consumed by Muslims right before the start of the fasting period is very important for a successful day’s fast since it provides the necessary energy to maintain one’s fitness levels throughout the day. Skipping suhoor can make a person tired and hungry all through the day.

Kayal says, “a proper and healthy suhoor meal is very important for athletes to keep their energy levels in check. Since they are fasting, a balanced suhoor meal can carry over to the next day, which supports in maintaining one’s health.”

Staying hydrated during the non-fasting hours and eating a balanced diet is key to staying healthy and maintaining performance levels while fasting.

Kayal advises female athletes to drink 3.5-4 liters of water every day while male athletes must ensure an intake of 5-6 liters of water.

According to her, eating quality food like plant-based food and protein is also helpful. “For pre- workout, have a banana, a full hand of raw nuts, oats with honey or dates. This can give you the energy required to perform the exercise session correctly. With no energy, you won’t be able to perform well, and hence, lose the benefit of the workout.”

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