During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Hamza Abdullah of the Denver Broncos got up around 4:30 a.m. every day, read the Koran for 45 minutes, ate a hearty meal before dawn and then did not touch food or drink again until sunset — no matter how difficult practice turned out to be.

Other players find it impossible to imagine, said Abdullah, whose Ramadan fast ended yesterday. But he thinks the focus that comes from fasting all day improves his game, an effect echoed by other Muslim athletes like Hakeem Olajuwon, the former N.B.A. star.

“I have had some of my best games during Ramadan,” Abdullah, a 24-year-old safety, said in an interview. “I got my first and only interception while I was fasting.”

It does not work for everyone. His teammate Ryan Harris, 22, a rookie offensive tackle from Notre Dame, lasted only six days, saying he decided to break the fast between a heavy workout in the morning, when he repeatedly bench-pressed about 275 pounds, and an afternoon practice.

“After the lift I was just out of gas and I needed something that would get me ready for practice,” said Harris, who had back surgery this summer and was also worried that fasting might slow his rehabilitation.

Teammates, he acknowledged, “think it is crazy,” particularly the idea of not drinking water all day. Devout Muslims avoid sex and eating or drinking from dawn until sunset during the month. Actually, they are not supposed to ingest anything, which rules out all manner of activity, including smoking.

The idea is to focus on their blessings and their spiritual awareness, which the athletes say carries over into their play. As with any change, they admit it is hard, like trying to get into shape after weeks of not working out. But eventually the body establishes a new tempo.

“When your stomach is full, you get tired and lazy and too relaxed,” said Olajuwon, who retired from the Houston Rockets in 2002. “You get tremendous energy from fasting. Everything is crisp. When your stomach is empty, you get a lot of oxygen and you can breathe.”

It is a unique form of energy that he has never gotten any other way, Olajuwon said, speaking in a telephone interview from Amman, Jordan, where he spends much of the year learning Arabic. Olajuwon said his statistics always jumped when he was fasting. He remembers scoring at least 8 more points each game. (MORE)


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