During Ramadan, it is customary to abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset, which poses a distinct challenge for observant athletes.
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For more than a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan entails several weeks of fasting. But this year's holy month is especially challenging for Mohamed El-Munir of the Los Angeles Football Club: It coincides with an important stretch of his team's Major League Soccer campaign.
During Ramadan, which this year begins at sundown on May 5, El-Munir—who joined LAFC in December after one season with Orlando City—abstains from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam while practicing purification and self-discipline.
"Ramadan is one of the most special months we have in our lives as Muslims," El-Munir, 27, says. "We enjoy 11 months of God's blessings, and this is a time we can make sacrifices and be thankful and submit to Him."
Not every Muslim athlete chooses to fast while training, but for strict adherents, the month poses a distinct challenge. Hakeem Olajuwon famously fasted during Ramadan, even on Rockets game days, while former Chiefs and Vikings safety Husain Abdullah fasted throughout training camp in 2010. (Ramadan's timing varies each year based on the Islamic calendar.) LAFC entered May in first place in MLS, and the team has five games during the holy month. So to stay fit during that stretch, El-Munir adheres to a special diet at night, when eating and drinking are permitted.
"I take some protein shakes for energy before the sun rises," the Libyan defender says. "To break my fast, I start off with dates, milk and sometimes a strawberry and banana smoothie. Then I work my way through dishes like chicken and meat, fish, pastas and rice."
Harry Routledge, LAFC's head of sport science and nutrition, says those calorie-dense, high-carb meals help El-Munir maintain muscle mass and body weight even though he's fasting. He also works with El-Munir to develop a hydration plan for the hours after dark when he's allowed to drink.
"Our hydration strategy is regular water intake with regular electrolyte intake through an electrolyte solution," Routledge said. "This helps maintain hydration through high amounts of sodium potassium and magnesium, the minerals that are lost in sweat."
During Ramadan, El-Munir also indulges in Libyan cuisine such as osban, a traditional sausage stuffed with a mixture of rice, herbs and chopped lamb served with couscous—though he's careful to limit himself. "Those meals makes me feel at home, but just because you're fasting doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want [at night]," he says. "You have to be mindful of what you're putting in your body."
But when the holiday of Eid comes along in June, signifying the end of Ramadan, El-Munir knows exactly how he'll celebrate another year of successful fasting: "At the dessert table, eating everything I can find."