Fasting means refraining from eating and drinking for a specific period. The duration of the fast depends on the geographical location and the season of the year and can be as long as 18 h a day in the summer temperate regions. During Ramadan, two meals are eaten (a) one just before dawn and (b) one after sunset. Although there are no dietary restrictions involved, significant changes in nutrition and behavioral changes are observed during the fasting period. These changes can influence substrate availability and induce dehydration.
Food and fluid intake before, during, and after training has implications on athlete performance. No fluid intake in the day can have a greater impact on performance than the absence of food, especially when training in hot environments.
Those athletes who are observing fasts may choose to skip the morning meal to catch up on sleep hence Diet intake can vary during the fast period with food consumption specifically geared towards Ramadan. These foods could be higher in sugar, animal protein, and fats than what is eaten outside of the fasting period.
Hypohydration will impair athletic performance. In warm weather, dehydration by 2% will mar aerobic performance, degrade cognitive and mental functions and muscle power. Research on a subset of junior soccer players has indicated that the fasting group of soccer players showed fluid deficit loss of greater than 2% and impaired performance than the non-group of fasting players. Decreased levels of hydration can lead to a loss of inability to concentrate, reduced alertness levels, and increased subjective sensations of fatigue.
Body temperature, muscle strength, psychomotor functions have a direct co-relationship with circadian rhythms. If the sleep-wake cycle is disturbed, then there could an impact on these variables that can affect athlete performance. Sleep loss impacts performance with mood changes, psychomotor abilities being affected more than physical ability.
Research studies have shown a reduction in anaerobic performance during the fasting period. Muscular performance with isometric strength as well as sprint performance timings was affected when compared to the pre-fasting period. Athletes have felt their performance has been affected because of the fast and all of them have attributed this to their perception of eating less. One must consider these were subjective opinions too.
Coaches can also change the training schedule to fit the athletes' needs in this period by changing the intensity of the practice, and focusing more on the tactical, coordination, and technical aspects of the sport.
Competitions are scheduled around religious occasions. Hence the elite athlete still has to practice maintaining his or her performance How can this be achieved? This can be achieved by making adaptions in the eating, sleeping, and training by following these guidelines:
- Instead of taking quick digesting carbohydrates (simple sugar), go with slow-release carbs in pre-dawn hours.
- Drink an adequate amount of water in predawn hours to maintain fluid in the body coupled with behavioral adaptions will preserve hydration status and minimize fluid losses.
- Establish a new sleep-wake cycle with regular sleep and eating schedules, with daytime naps.
- Avoid training in hot timings.
- After breaking the fast, take an adequate amount of protein and quality carbs to maintain nutrient requirements.
- Lastly, reschedule your training time. Try to do your workout when your energy and fluid level are sufficient.