Sports in Ramadan: Why balancing Taekwondo moves while fasting is uplifting

Nasreen Abdulla
Filed on April 15, 2021

Even during the Holy Month of Ramadan, the dojang (training hall) of WTTU Moo Duk Taekwondo is teeming with activity. Some of the trainees are tiny tots, aged just three or four, while others are Olympic medal hopefuls. However, some members, including non-Muslims, also keep a fast while doing intensive workouts.

Master Grant John Randall, the president of World Taekwondo Taedoo Union (WTTU) in the UAE, oversees the operations of Moo Duk and explains that his tryst with Islam began a little after he arrived in the UAE. “My parents left it to us to choose our own path,” he said. “In 2004, about a year after I had been in the UAE, I was quite fascinated by Islam. I used to visit the Islamic bookshop where I had picked up books that explained science and mathematics in the Holy Quran. After reading a couple of books, I knew that Islam had a lot of answers to questions that I had. After I converted to Islam, I started fasting.”

After spending almost a decade living and working in several places, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Master Grant decided to give up his job and take up taekwondo full-time, setting up a base in Dubai. “I didn’t have a place to teach, though,” he remembers. “So, for almost a year, I would give free taekwondo lessons in Zabeel Park to whoever wanted to learn.”

In 2017, when he set up WTTU Moo Duk Taekwondo, he wasn’t alone in fasting. He was joined by his colleague Master Karel Josh De Vera. “When I first started fasting, it was just a mark of respect to Master Grant and some of our students,” he says. “The first day I fasted, the duration was 16 hours and I remember having severe headaches. I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. However, I kept at it and began noticing a lot of health benefits in my body because of fasting. That is when I decided to do it regularly.”

Master Grant, however, remembers having it tough in the initial days. “The first couple of days, I would always have a headache. You can beat me with bricks or stab me and I could take it, but I can’t take a headache. However, after two or three days, my body got used to the fasting regime. Many of our students are fasting too, including one of our Olympic medal hopefuls. It is hard to train her when she is fasting, but we work around it. In her case, we just switch her schedule completely and train her during the evenings after she breaks her fast. That is only because her body fat is within the required limits. If she had to lose some body fat, I would have trained her while she was fasting, keeping it within the 70 per cent range of MHR (maximum heart rate) to bring about some burning of fat.”

Master Grant elaborates a little further on how they carefully design the training sessions for many of their professional athletes. “Usually, we train them to build endurance and every day we concentrate on a different set of muscle groups,” he says. “However, during Ramadan our focus is on full body conditioning. So, we do one day of horizontal exercises and the next day we do completely lateral exercises. This ensures that we don’t tire out one particular muscle and instead, work on the body completely.”

On a usual day during Ramadan, the trainers are working for about 6.5 hours, most of which are rigorous and intensive workouts. Of this, almost three hours are spent in training themselves while the remaining is spent training other athletes and running classes. “We have two classes for children,” says Master Grant. “One of them is for tiny athletes and another for older children. Those classes are really the only downtime we have during the day. Otherwise, we are constantly on the move.”

When asked if he is famished by evening, Master Grant chuckles. “Not really. We usually eat a few dates, a small snack and some water and then we go back to training. We don’t eat anything heavy as it would then be difficult to continue training. Our first meal is dinner which we eat after finishing up for the day around 10 pm.”

The meals of the athletes are specially designed to meet their nutrition requirement for training and maintaining their muscle mass. “I usually eat a low-carb, high-protein diet for my own body’s requirement,” says Master Grant. “The diets of the athletes are individually designed and differ based on their body composition and needs.”

Master Grant adds that the toughest part of Ramadan for him is sleeplessness. “After eating dinner, I am usually not able to fall asleep easily. So, I stay awake the whole night and sleep only after suhour. This gives me barely four to five hours of sleep before I am up and about, training again. That is the single biggest difficulty. However, what I enjoy the most about the month is the peace and calm.” He adds that he loves that everything slows down, making way for psychological rejuvenation. “Spiritually, it is very uplifting, and Ramadan is my favourite time of the year.”