Athletes adapt to exercising while fasting


“It’s just hard trying to keep going and keep trying to play your sport when you’re really thirsty and hungry,” said Iman Shaikh, a senior and member of the Berkeley High School affiliated rugby team. For her and other Muslim student athletes, March 22 marked the beginning of a month of fasting while the sun is out in observance of Ramadan.

“(Fasting) is an important ritual or tradition of Islam so it’s important for me,” Sami Khayatei Houssaini, a junior on the crew team, said. “But also it teaches you a lot about self restraint but also empathy towards people or sharing the experiences of some people who may not have frequent access to food or beverage everyday.”

Shaikh described being tired at school and after school. “By the time I come home I’m so exhausted that I just want to go to sleep,” Shaikh said. “It’s kind of hard balancing your school life and your religious life, like trying to pray and read the Quran.”

For Khayatei Houssaini, morning practices are “okay because I still have water in me and some food in me, so it’s not as hard. But towards the end of the day in the evening it does sometimes get a little hard because I’m hungry, and also starting to get a little thirsty.”

Khayatei Houssaini remembered feeling hungry and thirsty the evening of the crew team’s individual pace tests, saying that “I didn’t feel super great, but I decided to do it anyway. It was challenging but I was able to do it better than I had previously done. But afterwards it did not feel great at all, I couldn’t drink any water afterwards so that was a little hard.”

Similarly, Shaikh has continued to put full effort into rugby games and practices, but hasn’t always felt at her strongest.

“I try to try my best as much as I was before, but obviously like during games it’s definitely hard to try to keep like a hundred percent energy throughout the whole time just because it’s like you don’t really get any breaks,” Shaikh said. “And you havent really eaten food all day and you can’t really drink any water.”

Both Shaikh and Houssaini have experienced understanding and supportive teammates and coaches. 

“Everybody’s been very supportive,” Houssaini said. “(They’ve been) telling me that if at any point I don’t feel well just to tell them, that I can stop at any time, and just to take care of myself.”

Senior Basil Adnan described his shift in sleep schedule as a result of fasting, as he wakes up before sunrise to eat, goes back to sleep, and wakes up a bit later than usual. Adnan, who regularly exercises, added that during Ramadan, he tends to exercise more at night, after breaking his fast. Additionally, “The only other change I made in my routine was going for walks and making it less physically intense, so I wouldn’t be as hungry or thirsty,” Adnan wrote. 

For Shaikh, part of balancing sports, school, and religion means leaving some practices early to break her fast with her family. Both Shaikh and Houssaini mentioned breaking their fast with their family or friends as a highlight of Ramadan for them.