Athletes' sacrifice: balancing sports and the holy month of Ramadan

During this time of year, athletes find themselves negotiating the delicate balance of continuing training during Ramadan.

The holiest month in the Islamic calendar comes to an end this Friday

Mariam Sylla playing as the co-captain of McGill's basketball team. (Submitted by Mariam Sylla)

Throughout the summer, Mariam Sylla, the co-captain of McGill University's basketball team and two-time Academic All-Canadian, takes part in intense scrimmage and conditioning practice four times a week.

"Not drinking water is the hardest," she says. "You sweat a lot so you're not recuperating as much."

She's one of many athletes who are negotiating the delicate balance of continuing training during Ramadan.

The holiest month in the Islamic calendar comes to an end this Friday. Observers of the month-long fast use this time to put themselves into the shoes of those less fortunate — partially by withholding food from sunup to sundown.

While some Muslims, including pregnant women and children, are exempt from engaging in the annual ritual, athletes are not necessarily among them.

Fadi Chaar suits up for the Montreal Transit, a semi-pro football organization. (Submitted by Fadi Chaar)

For Fadi Chaar, a former semi-pro football player who is joining the Concordia Stingers this upcoming season, fasting as an athlete requires a tradeoff between sleep and food.

Most Muslims observing Ramadan wake up at around 3:40 a.m. for their last meal before morning prayers at sunup. Chaar has only managed to rise that early seven times in the last 20 days.

An action sport physiology student, he believes that "as an athlete, sleep is more important than food."

During Ramadan, both Sylla and Chaar admit that fasting affects their intensity and endurance. Sylla remembers a year when her basketball coach fasted with her to understand what it felt like. He lost 20 pounds.  

Sylla says she's a non-stop eater the rest of the year and Ramadan is a time when her religion pushes her to accomplish things she never thought she could.

Chaar works two jobs, attends summer classes and still does strength training every night after breaking fast.

"If I can go through this, I have nothing to complain about later in the year," he says.

The challenge of arduous physical activity, combined with 18-hour stretches of no food and water are a small sacrifice, both Sylla and Chaar agree.

"There are some people who don't even eat the whole day and, when they go home, there's still no food," Sylla says.  

"When we go home, there's food waiting for us."


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