Emirati swimmer Alia Al Ahmed says self-discipline is what keeps her on track with her athletic goals, providing her with a powerful inner compass even during Ramadan.
Although, routines change for Muslims during the holy month as it involves fasting from sunrise to sunset, 18-year-old Alia, who has represented the UAE in swimming competitions, says mind control is key in the world of sports, even as she stays observant.
For many Ramadan can be a challenging time to balance work and health while fasting, but the young adult who has been fasting since the age of seven has dexterously learnt to navigate the intensity of this month.
“Athletes should especially take care, maintaining a healthy routine throughout Ramadan. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into habits that entail reversing your schedule and staying up all night and sleeping all day. But the true meaning of Ramadan is to appreciate what you have and to create more healthy habits rather than unhealthy ones,” says the student of GEMS Wellington Academy - Al Khail who is also the sports and house captain at her school.
Alia who has completed the sports leadership qualification, has represented the UAE on multiple occasions having been to Egypt to represent the country at the Arab Swimming Championships. She also represented the UAE in the championships held in Abu Dhabi last year.
“We just finished the Middle East Opens in February. Lots of clubs from outside the UAE came here. After Ramadan I am gearing up for Hamilton Aquatics Last Chance and Hamilton Aquatics Summer Sizzler.”
Alia says her family has been her biggest inspiration. “I’ve always loved sports from a young age and have tried getting involved in every sports team. I got involved with swimming because my parents wanted me to learn how to swim, and safety is a very important thing. In Dubai there is a lot of access to pools and beaches. So, they wanted to make sure that I was safe, and with three lessons I developed a passion for it, and so I just continued with it,” she adds.
Alia swims for two to four hours daily depending on her schedule. “If it’s a day when we have classes in the morning and afternoon, then its four hours, otherwise if it’s only one session, then its two hours.”
During Ramadan, Alia ensures that she gets the calories and protein she needs to fuel her training and recovery while staying as hydrated as possible.
“In the morning I wake up half an hour before Fajr prayers and I try to make my breakfast as healthy as possible with oats or something that will fill me for the whole day. During the holy month, swimming is from 6am to 8am. Right now we have holidays. but when we have school, it’s up until 2pm, and then we would have training and then come home.”
During the holy month, she makes it a point to avoid greasy, fatty, and heavily-seasoned foods, and reckons that consuming food in moderation is the way forward.
“At Suhoor I usually eat something that has slow burning carbohydrates to make sure I have enough energy to complete the day of fasting whilst training and going to school. So, I prefer eating porridge or oats with fruits and dates and honey. I try to drink a bottle of water before I start fasting,” she adds.
“I traditionally end my fast with water and dates and laban. During Iftar I eat food which is filling and stores energy while maintaining nutrition. I continue to include vegetables in my meals. My intake includes lentil soup and salad and vegetable side dishes. I also having carb-focused meals and prioritise protein. So, getting good nutrition during Ramadan is imperative. Along with this, maintaining a good amount of sleep and exercising before or after iftar is equally important,” says Alia.
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