Managing Players’ Fitness, Performance During Ramadan

Majority of Kano Pillars’ players are observing the Ramadan fast.

Majority of Kano Pillars’ players are observing the Ramadan fast.

THE Ramadan period, when members of the Muslim faith cut down behavioural excesses by abstaining from food and drinks from sunrise to sunset, is upon us once again and players from the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) will join millions of other Muslims to undertake this important tenet of the faith.

Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam, and it requires the abstinence from food, drinks, smoking and sexual relations from dawn to sunset. During such fasts, a person takes a meal in the latter part of the night just before dawn (Sahur) and will not eat again until after sunset when the breakfast is done (Iftar).

For Muslim players in the Glo Premier League and other domestic leagues, this doesn’t come easy as matches are usually scheduled for kick-off at 4.00 p.m. (Nigerian time) when temperatures are at their peak. It’s so hot it usually gets up to 47 degree in some parts of Northern Nigeria.

Science has proven that the human body needs to be in sync with food availability and digestion in the body system. Any alteration in both will only result to a shut down in the usual body system.

Suffice to say a lack of, or sudden change in the usual dynamics a player’s organs are used to will definitely trigger adverse reactions. The body, by virtue of how it receives food and fluids, will switch modes and look for calories to augment what it requires. If this isn’t satisfied, it doesn’t function optimally and for high performance athletes like players of the Glo Premier League, a dip in form is expected.

This is a major issue for a lot of players, who have to struggle with dehydration and dizziness occasioned by the heat, and despite the apparent fact proven by researchers, a lot of players still stick to this important part of the Muslim faith, abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset.

A medical practitioner, Dr. Jamilu Faruk Abdullahi, who is a consultant with the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Shika-Zaria and a Muslim, explained how the body works and responds during fasting period.

Warri Wolves’ Abu Azeez has adopted a system that ensures he is not adversely affected by the fasting period.

Warri Wolves’ Abu Azeez has adopted a system that ensures he is not adversely affected by the fasting period.

“The human body digests food eaten, and absorbs it into the body to release energy for daily activities. During fasting, the body depends on stored glucose in the liver and muscles, which are released through the process of glycogenolysis- to supply the energy demands,” he told www.npfl.ng.

“In addition, during vigorous exercise and periods of high energy demands, or depleted glucose stores, the body taps into its lipid stores (fats), and mobilizes energy from the fatty tissue. This, in a way helps the body to reduce unwanted lipids like cholesterol, contributing to the weight loss sometimes observed in some individuals.

“The kidneys also adjust their function during fasting states, by conserving body water, and forming scanty concentrated urine. However, during extremely hot weather or vigorous exercise, the water loss from sweating and insensible loss (water vapour) can lead to dehydration and muscle cramps.

“If the fasting state were to continue for days without end, as seen in starvation, then the body starts to breakdown proteins from the muscles and other organs, leading to severe body wasting and emaciation. However, because fasting lasts for a specific period, the body gets revived at the end of the day, and food stores are replenished to continue the next day,” Dr. Faruk explained.

Glo Premier League title holders, Kano Pillars with a large contingent of Muslim players in their squad, have won one and lost a game during the on-going Ramadan period, while El Kanemi Warriors have also won one and lost one.

This doesn’t by any means validate the performance index of players vis-a-vis prior to the Ramadan as against this period but does give a pointer to how they can be affected.

A lot of players have opined that the first week of the Ramadan is usually the hardest, but after that, the body gradually adapts to the new change.

The League Management Company (LMC) has no statutory rules regarding religious affiliation or practices and issues like the Ramadan are exclusive decision of the players and their clubs.

Every player in the NPFL has the prerogative to practice what he chooses as far as it doesn’t bring the game to disrepute.

Giwa FC defender, Nojeem Raji, told www.npfl.ng that the Ramadan is a holy period for him and he fasts during the period.

“Yes, I am currently observing the Ramadan. I do that every year as a Muslim,” he said.

“It’s a bit tough because as a professional footballer, you need to be fit all the time for matches. I try my best to take my mind off the fact that I am fasting.

“Your body starts reacting in most cases towards the 70th minute or so and you need to play smart to conserve your energy.

“I try to rest as much as I can. I hardly go out except for club meetings. I try to stay focused and tune my mind to the matches. It’s tough but I’ve become accustomed to it over the years.

“All the Muslim players in our team observe the fast as far I as know,” he added.

Giwa United’s Nojeem Raji.

Giwa United’s Nojeem Raji.

Nasarawa United’s Baba Idris is another Muslim player, who says he observes the fast during the period and that despite it’s challenges, he finds strength to play in the Glo Premier League during Ramadan.

Idris, who hasn’t played this season due to injury revealed that he is now accustomed to playing during Ramadan but observes a strict dietary regime during the period.

“I am quite used to it now. It isn’t a problem at all. I always find a way to make my body stay in shape during matches,” he told www.npfl.ng

“I try to take a lot of rest to conserve energy before the games. Lafia is an extremely hot and humid city and your need your body to be at it’s optimal best to survive here.

“I take a lot of starchy food when breaking my fast and when I wake up just before sunrise. My protein intake is also high. This combination adds some calories to my system.

“I also take a lot of fura (a popular local millet beverage in northern Nigeria). It stores fluids in my system and ensures I don’t get dehydrated easily.

“Allah always has a way of helping me, sometimes when I get tired, I feel like some divine energy is chucked on me to see me through the duration of the game,” he enthused.

However, there are a few exceptions- Muslim players, who don’t observe the fast on match days.

Nigeria’s Sand Eagles and Warri Wolves attacking midfielder, Abu Azeez, is one of such players. And he says even though he observes the Ramadan  on regular days, he doesn’t  fast on match days.

“No, I don’t. I don’t fast on match days. My body can’t really take it and it will affect my performance on the field of play,” Azeez said when www.npfl.ng put him on the spot.

“I do fast on regular days. But one of my pre-match rituals is to take enough fluid and protein to increase my calories so I can be at my optimal best for my team.

“I understand a lot of Muslim players do fast and are currently fasting on match days, but I don’t because I know how my system works more than others,” he added.

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