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The month of Ramadan is a holy month for Islamic people throughout the world. One of the religion’s five pillars, Ramadan requires observers to fast from sunrise until sunset every day for a month, which means no eating or drinking during this time as a way to demonstrate devotion to their religion.  

To outsiders, this may sound hard enough as it is, but now imagine having to do this while also being a professional athlete. This is the case for two Houston Dynamo 2 players, forward Papa N’Doye and defender Mujeeb Murana, both of whom recently reflected on their experiences fasting for Ramadan as professional soccer players for the first time. 

“It was definitely hard. This wasn't my first time doing it, but it was my first time doing it fully during a season,” Murana said. “So, with the help of the nutritionist here at the Dynamo, we built a pretty good plan and I was able to maintain most of my physical attributes that I needed to keep during the process. It was challenging, but with the approach that we took, it got me through it for sure.” 

Both Murana and N’Doye expressed that fasting as an athlete comes with additional challenges, although N’Doye said things became easier after the first week. 

“It definitely has some complications, because you don't have the same energy you have when you're not fasting,” N’Doye said. “The first week it was really terrible. It was really tough. After the first week, my body started to adapt, so it was easier after that. But definitely it's something that is not easy, especially when everybody else is not fasting.” 

Fortunately, both players have experienced fasting for Ramadan. As one of the most fundamental components of Islam, N’Doye says he has been training himself to fast during this month since he was as young as possible.

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“I've been fasting since I was a kid. Ever since I was able to do it, really. When I was 5-10, I even tried, I was just learning how to do it. At 12, I was able to do it properly,” N’Doye said. “It's a pillar of Islam, so you have to do it every single year. Now I'm able to do it properly and I'm just happy to be able to do it because it is one of the things you have to do as a Muslim, it's about discipline.” 

In addition to being well-practiced in fasting, the athletes had a special resource that they could rely on during this month. The Houston Dynamo nutritionist, Brett Singer, has worked with athletes who fasted for Ramadan before, and worked closely with the athletes to develop a plan that would best allow them to continue their success on the pitch. 

“I've worked with athletes before that have played sports during Ramadan, so I was aware of it” Singer said. “It's a challenge that I haven't had to work with a lot, but it's something that I'm familiar with and knew that it was going to be a distinct challenge, especially with the environment, the weather, and where it fell within our season. I ultimately just wanted to try and be a resource to them as much as possible.” 

Part of this challenge is getting up every morning before sunrise in order to eat prior to the start of each day’s fast.  

“I was waking up every day at like 4:30 a.m. I quickly fell asleep again before practice and then I wouldn't eat again until like 8 o'clock at nighttime,” Murana said. “And I couldn't have water during practice, which was probably the hardest part.” 

For Singer, working with Murana and N’Doye was made easier by both players’ extensive experience fasting for Ramadan, and their devotion to their religious practice. 

"Ultimately, both of them had a lot of experience already. They've been through Ramadan before, they've been playing soccer for a long time, so ultimately they had a pretty good feel for what works well for them and what doesn't,” Singer said. “I asked them some questions. One about what challenges they faced in the past. I identified any potential solutions or areas that we can help out. This is a different dynamic being here than in a collegiate setting.” 

According to N’Doye, these questions that Singer asked him, and the accompanying advice he gave, was invaluable during this time. 

“Brett was a great source of help for us because he gave us advice for what we can eat, how we are going to take our breakfast early in the morning and he actually gave us supplements that we could take at night when we broke our fast,” N’Doye said. “We were definitely thankful to have him helping us navigate through this Ramadan period.” 

For Murana, this is a month of extreme importance, and one that he says he is happy to be able to observe each year. 

“Every year it's a blessing to be able to fast, if you're healthy. If you're in good condition, you should fast, even if you're playing soccer professionally,” Murana said. “It's something that I take joy in doing. It's a beautiful month to really get closer to God and really focus on my religion. It's something that I always look forward to doing and I am blessed to have been able to participate in this last one.”