Photo by Kadir Caliskan, UWW.
Yahya Thomas is a 2019 Junior World Team member and Northwestern wrestler, who is also a practicing Muslim. In several situations, he has had to train and compete while observing Ramadan, a holy month in the Islam calendar, which requires fasting from sun up to sun down.
As a high-level athlete, there are some adjustments he has to make during Ramadan, which is from mid-April to mid-May this year. Later this week, Thomas will compete at the Senior Nationals in Coralville, Iowa, at 70 kg in men’s freestyle. The event falls right in the middle of this year’s Ramadan.
USA Wrestling’s Taylor Miller sat down with Thomas to give insight on what Ramadan is and how it shapes his athletic career. Below are three questions highlighted from the interview. You can also watch the entire interview below.
USAW: What is Ramadan and how you personally celebrate it?
YT: Ramadan is one of the most special Muslim months during the year. It follows the lunar calendar, so it changes year-to-year. Basically, the biggest thing in Ramadan is that we are fasting every day for 30 days. The reason behind it is that we are trying to grow ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually… That’s a breakdown of what Ramadan is. There is a lot more about it in the Quran, but at a high level, that’s what it is. I fast every single day. Usually, we do special prayers in the morning and at night, when we start our fast and when we break our fast. At night when we break our fast, we are usually supposed to have a communal atmosphere when we’re praying, but with Covid, it’s kind of hard to do that. Normally, we come together as a community and pray together and sometimes we’ll do meditations after the day’s fast.
USAW: In a sport where maintaining weight plays a major role, what kind of adjustments do you have to make when training or competing during Ramadan?
YT: Part of the adjustment that I make is with the nutrition. I work with an expert nutritionist at Northwestern, and we go over some of the things that I really need to pay attention to during Ramadan when I’m fasting all day and training once or twice a day. The big thing is making sure that I’m getting all the calories I need and the carbohydrates, proteins and things like that. I also have to make sure that I’m getting the electrolytes I need because I’m sweating a lot. I have to be sure to replenish that during the times I can actually eat and drink…When I’m fasting, I tend to lose a little bit more weight naturally, so I can eat a little bit more when I can eat since I have a shorter time period to eat.
USAW: What do weigh-ins look like for you when observing Ramadan?
YT: Actually, we don’t fast when we are traveling or sick. That’s one of the rules. Technically, I’ll be traveling for Senior Nationals, so I won’t be fasting the day that I’m traveling or the day of the competition. That’s good because then I can focus on what I normally do in terms of eating and drinking and preparing for the tournament, which makes things a lot easier on competition day and being able to perform. I won’t be wrestling matches while I’m fasting. That actually works out pretty well.