Try engaging in intense physical exercise for a good seven hours with no food or water. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? But, this is exactly what Muslim American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is currently doing-not just for a day, but for the whole month of Ramzan. The New Jersey native heads to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with Team USA next month, where she will make history as the first U.S. athlete to compete in the games wearing a hijab.
“My faith is first and foremost to me. It’s a priority,” Ibtihaj told The Huffington Post. “So it was never a question of whether I would fast and train. I’ve had to fast and train for as long as I’ve been competing at this level. The only difference for me this go around is that I’m in the middle of training for the Olympics.”
Ibtihaj gets up before sunrise for morning prayers and her morning meal. She has the most energy for cross-training from about 6:45-8 a.m. She tries to wrap up afternoon fencing workouts by about 1 or 2 p.m. before her energy takes a dip leading up to sunset when breaks her fast.
Ibtihaj said she typically makes smoothies in the morning packed with fruits, vegetables and superfoods like chia and flaxseed to ensure she gets the nutrients she needs for the day of training. Training during Ramzan also poses the issue of hydration, as most athletes rely on water to prevent muscle fatigue and cramping. She drinks a lot of water, but also eats food with high water content, like watermelon, to keep her hydrated.
“In the past I’ve had muscle injuries during Ramadan, and that’s always my biggest concern going into this holy month and training at the same time,” Ibtihaj stated. Besides fasting, Ramzan also entails frequent prayers, reading from the Quran and engaging in community worship and meals. Evening prayers in the mosque can go until 11:30 p.m. or midnight, and Ibtihaj said it’s important for her to stay up for these even when she’s exhausted and knows she’ll be up before sunrise the following morning.