News / Africa

Will Ramadan Fasting Affect World Cup Outcomes?

Preparing to play Germany, Algeria's Rafik Halliche, center, and teammates train at the Arena do Gremio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, June 29, 2014.
Preparing to play Germany, Algeria's Rafik Halliche, center, and teammates train at the Arena do Gremio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, June 29, 2014.

Never mind the guys on the opposing team: Some Muslim athletes heading into World Cup play face heady internal competition between the rigors of fasting and football.

Saturday marked the start of Ramadan, the Islamic month of contemplation, prayer and fasting. While there are exemptions – for infirmity, advanced age or physically demanding jobs – most devout Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset.

For athletes, that can be a challenge. Even the slightest advantage can influence the outcome of a game, a consideration likely to draw special attention in this afternoon’s match between Algeria and Germany.  It will start less than an hour before sunset in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

An Algerian football newspaper recently reported that Algeria’s head coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, forbade his players against fasting – a charge he and the national football association denied, according to the Associated Press. Algeria is predominantly Muslim, and its team is exclusively so.   

Vahid Halilhodzic, coach of Algeria's national soccer team, at a news conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil, June 29, 2014.Vahid Halilhodzic, coach of Algeria's national soccer team, at a news conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil, June 29, 2014.
Vahid Halilhodzic, coach of Algeria's national soccer team, at a news conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil, June 29, 2014.
Vahid Halilhodzic, coach of Algeria's national soccer team, at a news conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil, June 29, 2014.

Halilhodzic, a French-Bosnian who has coached the team for three years, said at a news conference Sunday that players could decide for themselves whether to fast.

The coach objected to questions on the topic, calling fasting "a private issue" on which "players will do exactly as they wish," the AP said.

Impact of fasting studied

This year’s World Cup is the first to overlap with Ramadan in 28 years. So, well in advance, commissioners for World Cup organizer FIFA ordered up several studies on fasting, The New York Times reported.  

The Times quoted the chairman of FIFA’s medical committee, Dr. Michael D’Hooghe, as saying that if fasting is done "intelligently, then then you can adapt perfectly. Before the sun comes up, they [athletes must] have enough hydration to go on through the whole day."

A nutrition expert at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, talked with VOA about the physiological challenges of fasting.

Jennifer Sacheck, an associate professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, explained that fasting lowers the body’s storage of carbohydrates. That can reduce blood sugar levels, which can negatively affect mental sharpness and muscle contraction.

In essence, the athlete’s brain competes with brawn.

Carbohydrates also help the body with hydration, Sacheck said, because they bind with water.  If athletes “aren’t taking in carbohydrates, it’s harder to retain fluids,” she said.

Fluid needs

Restricting fluids further compromises the body, slowing delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to the muscles, Sacheck added. The blood thickens, forcing the heart to work harder.

"Any athlete that loses 2 to 3 percent of [his] body weight by sweating will have compromised performance," she said.  

A change in eating habits – ingesting most calories at night – also can negatively affect the body, Sacheck said. "You’d have to get used to getting a lot of calories during the night, which also brings in the issue of sleep , so [digestion] doesn’t mess with your sleep-wake cycles."

However, Sacheck noted that high-level training means "athletes have learned to thermo-regulate better under different environmental conditions." 

And, at least during the match, they can feed on the enthusiasm of their fans.  

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Butish Chuetrol Naka from: Lakes state south sudan
July 02, 2014 3:53 AM
you must judge the situations before taking action

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 5:04 AM
I wonder if the USA was the top contender in the World Cup if the mullahs, caliphs, muftis, Ayatollahs, etc would say "Eat! Drink! Beat those Americans, then you can pray to Allah for forgiveness, it's OK!" Enough of my hypoctical ranting.

Maybe they should consider playing the games, with teams of mostly Muslim players, at night.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs