The first two weeks of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia are going to be challenging for Muslim players due to fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan, says Prof Karim Chamari, a research scientist at Aspetar.
Prof Chamari, who has done extensive research on the effects of fasting on performance, says that it is so because the biological clock of these players will take some time to readjust to its pre-fasting state.
"According to the latest research findings, Ramadan fasting has adverse effects on certain physical performances. The distance a football player can cover during a match for example, particularly at high intensity, is lower during the fasting period compared to when that athlete isn't fasting" he pointed out.
It is noteworthy that the weeks leading up to mega event have not been easy, particularly for Muslim players observing Ramadan, which has come a month before the world's biggest football tournament.
Muslim players observing fast have had to prepare for the tournament amid challenging travel and training schedules.
The Ramadan fasting meant training schedules had to be adapted, meals rearranged and sleeping patterns adjusted.
"However, the root cause of decline in performance, is not necessarily fasting," Chamari said."Researchers suggest that there could be a 'nocebo' effect in play. A nocebo effect is when the mere suggestion of side effects is enough to bring on negative symptoms. For, many scientific studies report positive effects of intermittent fasting on body and mental health."
He continued:"The impact of fasting in Ramadan varies considerably from one region to another, depending on two factors: location, i.e. how close the country is to the equator, and the season. If a player lives in a country close to the equator, such as Qatar, the duration of fasting remains relatively consistent throughout the year (from 14 or 15 hours).
Meanwhile, if a player lives far from the equator, for instance in northern Europe, the duration of fasting tends to be very short in the winter, and very long in the summer (can reach up to 20 or 21 hours)."
"When a player only has three to four hours to replenish with food and fluids, there's no doubt it'll be challenging for them, and they're likely to suffer from chronic fatigue, particularly towards the end of the Ramadan. If a player is fasting in relatively easy conditions, such as in Qatar, where it's quite possible to maintain one's health when following the right diet and exercise regimen, and staying out of the extreme heat during summer months, the eventual fatigue suffered could very well be a result the nocebo effect rather than the fasting's effect on the body."
"When trying to analyse the effects of fasting on performance, we also need to make a clear distinction between three types of teams. There are teams made up of Muslim majority. These include Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Morocco. There are also teams with a significant number of Muslim players, such as Senegal and Nigeria, as well as teams made up of a few Muslim players. In cases A and B, coaches often adjust the training schedules of their athletes to fit Ramadan's hours. But in case C (France, Belgium, or Germany for instance), the coaches might be reluctant to change the schedule of an entire team for the sake of one or two players. So that also makes observing the month more difficult for individual players."
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