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Two Lives Collide - Ramadan and Athletics

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Sanna looks to celebrate goals, assists and faith in August
Sanna looks to celebrate goals, assists and faith in August

 The good news is that here in America we aren't idiots. OK, we are, and can be, but about Ramadan and sports we aren't the guy who runs Lazio (Claudio Lotito) who said this last year -

"I respect religious freedom and the ways that it is expressed," Claudio Lotito told reporters after a meeting of Serie A officials in Milan. "But I try to prevent things that can slow down training and the playing of matches. I've never bought players that have this problem."

Jose Morinho pulled a player because he thought Muntari had lost fitness due to his observance of Ramadan. Which may be true, or it could have just been because it was the first match of the year.

What we here in Seattle know is that Sanna Nyassi will not be fully observant of Ramadan's Fasting, because he feels that it affected his performance last year. The psychological impact it had on Sanna is apparent.

He consulted his spiritual advisors, and they have granted him leniency. This usually means that the person will make up fasting time when appropriate. But is it really necessary for this, or is it an attempt by someone from another cultural system trying to assimilate?

Ayesha Abdeen, 26

CEO, Muslim Women's Sport Foundation, from London

"I adhere to everything, fasting from dawn until dusk. It is quite a long day, hard at the beginning, but the benefits always outweigh the difficulties. It is one month of being disciplined and a reminder, especially for those who are always busy, of our surroundings and those less fortunate. It is a month where everybody gets together, we visit friends and family. There is a sense of community."

Ayesha was a part of Ramadan and Me in the Independent. With Britain's nearly 2 million Muslims, the EPL's activity in Africa and Asia, and the start of the season there will likely be more written on Ramadan and athletics.

One of the common misunderstandings about the Ramadan Fast is that it does not necessarily change caloric intake. What it does do is change the circadian rhythm of the body, as eating and drinking are only allowed when the sun is down. Due to this there is generally a loss of sleep, particularly in the West as we do not typically accept midday naps.

Would midday naps really help?

One study concludes, likely yes.

In summary, fasting, partial sleep deprivation, and feelings of fatigue during the practice of Ramadan in France induced a decrease in the aerobic capacity and favoured proinflammatory biological responses in middle-distance runners who maintained usual competitive training. Muslim athletes should be aware that prolonged carbohydrate intake and (or) reduction of work load and daytime napping have been shown to increase performance and to decrease the proinflammatory IL-6 response (Kubukeli et al. 2002, Scharhag et al. 2006, Vgontzas et al. 2007).

That study noted that the largest impact was after Day 21 of Ramadan, and lasted about one week after it concludes. In fact the first week showed little to no impact.

Why am I so fascinated with a studious approach to Ramadan? Besides just being a geek that likes studies?

The answer is two-fold - Hakeem Olajawon won the Player of the Month in the NBA while observing Ramadan and I just happen to like these rare opportunities when my first career (Arabic Linguist and Near Eastern Cultures Major) intersect with this passion for sport that I still maintain.

If Sanna feels that differing observance is best for him - GREAT. Is it necessary? Probably not. But as in most athletic endeavors individual psychology can be as important as anything else.