LONDON - As world athletes prepare for looming Olympic Games in London, experts are differing on the effect fasting would have on around three thousand Muslim as the event coincides with the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"Some individual Muslim athletes say they perform better during Ramadan even if they are fasting because they're more intensely focused and because it's a very spiritual time for them," Ronald Maughan, a sports scientist from Britain's Loughborough University who chaired the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) working group, told Reuters on Tuesday, May 22.
"Their faith gives them strength and Ramadan is an integral part of that faith."The coincidence of Ramadan this year with the London Olympics, which starts on July 27, has thrown up a dilemma for Muslim athletes expected to compete.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, is expected to start in July through August.
It will coincide with the London Olympics, which is scheduled to start on July 27 to August 12.
An estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes will be vying in the world event who will compete in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly contest.
Medical experts have long said that Ramadan fasting could leader to drop in performance due to a reduction of food intake that could deplete an athlete's liver and muscle glycogen stores.
Foreseeing potential problems and working far ahead of time, the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) nutrition working group convened a meeting in 2009 to review the evidence.
They came to the conclusion that Ramadan fasting could be problematic for some athletes in some sports, but the likely overall impact of Ramadan on London 2012 is far from clear.
Leading a team of scientists who reviewed more than 400 research articles on Ramadan and selected those relevant to sporting performance, Maughan found different results.
They found that "actual responses vary quite widely, depending on culture and the individual's level and type of athletic involvement".
"There are often small decreases of performance, particularly in activities requiring vigorous and/or repetitive muscular contraction," the team wrote in the review, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) this month.
But they concluded that in most situations "Ramadan observance has had only limited adverse consequences for either training or competitive performance".
Lacking enough studies, the overall impact of Ramadan on London 2012 is far from clear.
"It depends on the sport," Malaysian cyclist Azizulhasni Awang, who intends to postpone his Ramadan fast until after the London Games, told Reuters.
"If you come from skilled sport it doesn't matter, but we (cyclists) require quite a lot of energy.
Some athletes prefer to break fast during Ramadan to maximize their chances of winning Olympic medals.
I did try fasting last year during training. For the first one or two days it's not really a huge decrease of performance, but after that I felt really flat, Awang added.
A study in the BJSM in 2007 which looked at two Algerian professional soccer teams found that players' performance declined significantly for speed, agility, dribbling speed and endurance during the Ramadan fast.
Nearly 70 percent of the players thought their training and performance were adversely affected.
Another study published in the BJSM in 2010 concluded that "Ramadan fasting had an adverse effect on performance, albeit small in magnitude, during 60 minutes of endurance treadmill running" by moderately trained Muslim men.
Some experts have wondered whether changing the timing of some events might be a way forward.
A Muslim 100 meters runner who is observing Ramadan and whose race is in the early part of the morning is unlikely to be particularly badly affected if he or she has been able to eat and drink up until sunrise, for example.
But suppose you're a decathlete and your competition starts first thing in the morning and ends at 8pm, said Maughan.
With no food or drink in that time, that's a long hard day, especially if it's hot.