Ramadan and the World Cup: No problemo or a death wish?

Have you ever been to the gym? Or for a run? Or a bike ride? Or played soccer? Football? Basketball? You get hot, sweaty, and thirsty…  Now imagine doing that strenuous physical activity in tropical, humid brazil right now with average temperatures above 80F.

Now imagine you can’t have any water during that time. None.

With the onset of Ramadan, the holy month for Islam, a lot of people have been questioning the effects of this holiday on the muslim soccer players.  During Ramadan, followers are not permitted to eat OR DRINK during day light hours.  That means no water during the soccer games for athletes observing Ramadan.

Due to hot and humid conditions, this world cup has issued athletes take required water breaks in the middle of the games.  Yet, some of the most fantastic athletes, during one of the biggest most prestigious tournaments in the world, when they are expected to be at the height of their performance, will not be drinking water at all… due to religious reasons.  No water?! Surely that is insane?

But according to an article in the NYTimes, apparently fasting and not drinking water will have minuscule effect on the players.  Ron Maughan, a professor of sports nutrition at Loughborough University in England, conducted a study to examine the effects of fasting on athletes (prior to the 2012 London Olympics), and concluded that, “It might be fair to say there is no large effect.”  Apparently FIFA has also commissioned some studies to determine the effects of fasting:

“We made an important study with the doctor of the Algerian Football Federation, and it was very positive,” said Dr. Michel D’Hooghe, the chairman of FIFA’s medical committee and a member of its executive committee. “If you do it intelligently, then you can adapt perfectly. Before the sun comes up, they have enough hydration to go on through the whole day.”

Really?! So it is totally OK not to stay hydrated THROUGHOUT the games?! This all seems a little fishy to me.  Especially with the overwhelming evidence supporting the importance of hydration during athletic activity, ESPECIALLY in the heat (A simple google search, another simple google search).  Furthermore, irregular hydration and fasting has consequences for proper sleep habits as well… and of course, proper sleep and rest is incredibly important for athletic performance (WebMD).   In an article in the Huffington PostAli Zogbhi, vice president of the Federation of Muslim Associations in Brazil, said on Brazilian TV: “Science has already proved that if you do physical exercise without eating you experience serious problems. Therefore, it is more sensible to allow players to not fast during this period.”

The good news is that oftentimes, for special circumstances, exemptions can be made for followers of Ramadan.  Other times, followers can essentially “take a rain check,” and skip a few days of fasting, and make up those days at a later time.

The World Cup is a big deal, and for some of these players, this is there one and only moment to shine.  Hydration and nourishment are essential for peak performance ability.  A lot of athletes take their religion seriously… but for the sake of their health and career, I hope they make an exception during this World Cup and continue drinking water!!!

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