How to: Football Training During Ramadan

4 Jun 2018 | Recent News

What to eat, when to train and how to keep your skills sharp – here’s the Little League Soccer guide to football training during Ramadan.
Words: Henry Choo

Based on a 2015 study of football performance during Ramadan, it is understood that maintaining a healthy diet is key in ensuring that an athlete is able to perform at the optimum level. Though the study suggests that 3 large meals a day is recommended, this is not possible during the Ramadan month, due to the short time that one will be able to eat and drink. Although this can be countered with the amount of food and calorie intake during iftar and suhoor, there will be nutritional deficiencies. 

Sleep deprivation could also be a cause of concern, which also has a hand in performance of athletes. This, in turn, could cause injuries and dips in performance, which all affects an athlete dearly.

Thus, it is very important for an athlete and their coaches to communicate on what is best regime or programme to run during the month, in order to make sure that the player stays fit. Food high in carbohydrates, protein and fat should be considered during Ramadan to maintain an athletes optimum fitness and aid in recovery. Athletes can also try to ensure that food intake is moderate, and spaced out during regular intervals. This applies to hydration as well. 

Getting the sleep

To counter sleep deprivation, the study suggests that proper re-scheduling of one’s lifestyle should be considered so that an optimum 7–9 hours of sleep can be maintained, and naps in the middle of the day can be taken into account as well.

In terms of training, it is hard to tell whether the intensity of the training can be maintained to those of other months before and after Ramadan.

It is very important to understand that the ability of individual athletes to cope with these changes in Ramadan plays a key role in ensuring that recovery is quick and injuries can be prevented. However, with each individual responding differently to training sessions, it’s highly recommended that training intensity should change to that of a lighter nature.

What the Coaches say

Now that we have given the study a look, we asked the Little League Soccer coaches for some Ramadan training pointers.

According to Coach Akim, the most important thing to remember during this month is to pay attention to your body, and not to push it too much. Hydration is key, and he advises players to remember to constantly hydrate, especially after iftar. ‘Try to drink at least a litre,’ he adds.

Coach Akim also agrees that more carbohydrates in your diet is key, such as pasta, rice or anything starchy, as it aids recovery.

Training sessions should start with light warm-ups, and the sessions themselves should also start off light, before progressively getting heavier. Training should also be shorter in duration and lower in intensity.

Finally, Coach Akim adds that training should be conducted after iftar, if possible. ‘However, the most important thing is to know yourself. Don’t push it. If you feel weak, or have any symptoms of fainting, stop,’ he said.

Coach Shazwan shares the sentiments of Coach Akim, and is currently applying this thinking with the boys of KV United FC.

“Our training sessions run in the usual timing of 6:30 to 8pm, which is convenient as players can break their fast halfway through this period,” he said.

It is a 35 minute session before breaking fast, with drills involving a lot of ball work and tactics, and it comes along with progression. The drills start off slow, with intensity rising during the last five to ten minutes. The high intensity resumes after the players get a 10–15 minute break, where they will have a fair amount of water, some dates and light food.

In terms of performance during Ramadan, Coach Shazwan tells us that there is a significant difference as compared to when players are not fasting.

“You can see that players’ energy is low, and the match intensity is greatly reduced. It’s also down to the discipline of the players when it comes to their food intake, and that is something we have no control over.”

Coach Azizi, who currently captains KV United FC, has a different mindset. He agrees that a training session close to iftar is convenient and helpful, and though it is an obstacle to train without constant hydration and food, he feels a lot more positive during training sessions.

“The drills do not require a lot of thinking, but more of muscle memory and we are just merely enhancing it during this period. This is not too burdening for the players, and it’s actually helpful.”

During the breaking of fast, Coach Azizi treats it as a normal water break. “The mindset of a player plays a huge role in getting past the fact that we have had no food or water in the past 12 hours or so. My body feels a lot lighter and fresher before breaking fast, actually,” he adds.

“The mindset of a player plays a huge role in getting past the fact that we have had no food or water in the past 12 hours or so.” | Coach Azizi

The Trainer’s Perspective

To complete the picture, we got Sports Performance Coach, Mohd Hafizzat of Thrive to give us a few pointers on how you can still train and maintain optimum shape during Ramadan.

Based on our short talk, Hafizzat points out that training should be modified based on the needs of the athletes and that training intensity should be maintained (ie quality not quantity) to avoid the effect of detraining. One possible intervention for coaches, or oneself with teammates, is to include more small-sided games during team training in an indoor setting or during the coolest part of the day and progressively increase the intensity during the later part of the month of Ramadan. Either way, training should not exceed 1.5 hours and not more than 80% of an athlete’s max heart rate.

In terms of whether we as players should restrict ourselves to a certain diet during the holy month, Hafizzat says that there isn’t any specific diet for sahur of iftar (because it’s almost the same as breakfast and dinner) but meals for sahur should include a balanced diet of protein, complex carbs, fibre and most importantly, enough hydration.

The same thing applies for iftar as well with more emphasis on hydrating yourself. It is recommended that fluid intake be about 0.5–0.75 litres every hour post-iftar.

How does Salah do it?

We decided to ask another question after learning that Mohamed Salah was advised not to fast 2 days prior to the recent Champions League final. Is it recommended to forgo fasting before a huge match, especially of that magnitude?

Hafizzat points out that there is right and wrong to this, but he also understands where Mohamed Salah’s physician came from.

“Physiologically, it is not recommended to train in a prolonged, high intensity exercise as the fuel that your body uses for high-intensity exercises would be muscle glycogen and blood glucose. During fasting, this could be the limiting factor to your performance on and off the field.”

Hafizzat later adds that even though body limits could be a factor, there’s no stopping you from training at that high intensity. That’s provided you keep the training duration short, and recommended that players run a 45-minute high intensity work out, with proper work to rest ratio.

Mohammad Salah was advised to fast for 2 days before the UCL final | Source: Getty Images / SB Nation

So there you have it, pointers and advice from every aspect of the football spectrum. We hope you took notes, and have a pleasant Ramadan ahead!

Don’t forget to spread this useful information to your friends as well, as you train and grow together!