"Fasting can make you a better player"

Nathan Ellington, Crewe Alexandra striker and a devout Muslim, tells FFT how he adjusts his preparation during Ramadan – and how abstaining from food can benefit his game

As part of your faith you observe Ramadan, an annual month of fasting. What does this involve?
I have to abstain from taking in food or liquid from before sunrise until sundown.

How difficult is this for you as a professional footballer?

To be honest, it’s not that difficult. There are a lot of misconceptions out there. People think Muslims fast to torture themselves – as a show of devotion to our faith – but this is not true. We do it to give up our bad habits and to become better Muslims.

How do your team-mates react?
They think it’s the hardest thing a person could do – they always ask me how I do it – but to me it’s not that big a deal. Whatever club I’m playing for players ask questions, but I’m happy to answer them.

How do you cope with the physical demands of playing a game on an empty stomach?

It’s about getting your preparation right. Muslims only fast during daylight hours so I have to get the right fuel onboard before the first prayer of the day. This is called the suhoor [the early pre-dawn breakfast]. I’ve got my routine and I make sure stick to it.

More after the break

What do you eat when not fasting?
In the morning I have two pieces of toast and a decaf coffee, or cereal before training. I then make sure I drink a bottle of water on my drive to work. After training I’ll have pasta with fish or a sandwich with some fruit and a few cordial drinks. For dinner, my wife and I will usually have something that’s carb-based – normally rice or pasta with either fish, chicken, beef or lamb. But I’m a sucker when it comes to snacking and I can’t help eating crisps and a few sweets during the day. In the night I have a few biscuits with my hot drinks – but these days I try not to eat the whole pack like I used to when I was younger!

How does your body react when your normal eating habits are suspended for Ramadan?
It can be a challenge to start with, but it adapts. You have to make sure you’re fully hydrated – that’s the key. If you don’t get enough fluid on board when you have the chance you will struggle. I feel strong during the month of Ramadan. I’ve never felt like I was going to pass out.

Do you believe there any benefits to fasting?
You lose a bit of weight and get leaner, although that goes straight back on once you stop fasting. It also teaches self-control and restraint. This helps when it comes to pre-season and you’re trying to get back into shape.

Two meals, lots of fruit and eight litres of water 

‘The Duke’ has a gruelling meal plan while fasting – we don’t suggest trying this at home

Fooooooood!
“When it hits sunset [Maghrib] I try to break my fast with dates and milk or water. I then have my main meal either at home or at the mosque. It’s usually rice and lamb, but could be anything from chicken, beef or lamb with rice or pasta. I also try to get my daily fruits in the evening. It’s funny because I feel like I could eat a horse during the day, but when I finally get to eat, I feel full after half a plate.”

Midnight meal
“The first prayer of the day is at dawn, before sunrise: this is usually at 4am, so I get up at 3am and have a bowl of porridge and chopped banana. This is a great source of carbohydrates and provides me with a slow release of energy. This gives me all the fuel I need for training or a match.”

Glug, glug, glug
“After both my meals I drink 3-4 litres of water [FFT suggests you spread this over eight hours]. I drink the first two-litre bottle like it’s a can of coke. This can help you feel full up. If you’re dehydrated your performance suffers. Your body tires a lot quicker and it can affect your concentration.”

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