Educity, MALAYSIA – After crossing the finish line at the Triathlon Singapore mixed relay trial on Saturday morning, Ahmad Arif Ibrahim, went back to his room to sleep without drinking or eating.

Racing while fasting may seem contradictory to some. Not for Arif. He competed in both the triathlon and duathlon mixed relay trials, qualifying for the latter with his second place finish on Sunday.

“If the race were at the start [of Ramadan] I would be struggling more, but thankfully it’s at the end,” said Arif, 25.

Two years ago, Arif, then a multisport newbie, was a spectator at the trials as he watched his NTU seniors vie for a spot on the national squad. There, he first dreamt of making it to the SEA Games.

“Maybe now’s the time to try and be more competitive,” thought Arif. He found a coach, put in the hard work, and the rest is history.

The student-athlete attributed his performance to consistent training, even during the fasting month of Ramadan. “It’s all about the discipline,” he said.

Arif organised his training differently during the fasting month. In the first week, he laid off training to get used to his depleted energy levels. The following week, Arif was in tune with his body and could put together a timetable, which sometimes includes 1 am workouts so he can refuel immediately.

Arif making his pre-race meal, a bowl of oats. He has to wake up at 5 am to prepare food and eat for the day. (Alvin Ho)

A typical day begins with the pre-dawn meal around 5 am before Arif goes to school. He eats three dates, some oats, milk, honey, and chia seeds. Training only begins at 6 pm when Arif goes for a swim.

He breaks fast in the middle of his swim around 7 pm before wrapping up his workout. Multi-session days are the norm for Arif, with a cycling/run session scheduled for after dinner. Long runs are done in the morning at 3 am before his pre-dawn meal, after which he naps before heading to class.

Arif noted that as an athlete, there is an additional dimension to the fasting season.

“Ramadan is a month of reflection and empathy for the less fortunate. But it also teaches me discipline,” he said.

Does fasting disadvantage him when he does competitive sport during Ramadan? No.

“There’s never a right time [to fast],” he said. “[Fasting] affects you, but if you plan your races well, have the dedication and be consistent throughout your training, the results will pay off at the end.”

After qualifying for the SEA Games this Ramadan, Arif has set his sights on a loftier goal – a medal at the Games.