This week, we caught up with the Toronto Wolfpack’s Sonny Bill Williams, to get his take on observing Ramadan during lockdown, the importance of spending time with family during Eid, and how he’s been keeping up with training while staying at home.

Ramadan and Rugby

For someone like Sonny Bill Williams, whose occupation requires him to stay in shape, Ramadan can often present another dimension to the challenges he faces playing and training. This year, with no games taking place, things have been a little different.

In Episode 8 of our Keeping Up With the Pack series, we talked to Sonny about his time in lockdown, and what he’s been doing to juggle fasting and training while remaining indoors.

Has not playing games had an effect on your Ramadan routine?

Training this year during Ramadan has, understandably, been a much different experience for Sonny. And the lack of games has had an impact too. But this has meant that he’s been able to base his training more around his fast.

‘When I was playing I was having to train a lot during the day back in New Zealand. So I couldn’t really structure my day around Iftar (time each day when the fast is broken). So what I’m doing now is one or two hours, depending on how hard the session is, before Iftar.

I’ll get up before Suhoor (meal before sunrise) have a light meal, pray Fajr, read some Quran, and then my wife will let me sleep for a couple of hours so I’ll get up mid-morning.

Then we’ll normally go for a family walk with the kids, then I’ll just relax at home for a bit, try and read a bit of Quran, try and have a little afternoon nap - and then I’ll get up and usually train, and then break fast.’

Sonny explains that when he first began observing Ramadan, he took a much more regulated approach.

‘I’ll get asked by athletes a lot, what should I eat, what time should I eat, what type of food, when or if I should eat carbs, that type of stuff. When I first started getting into Ramadan from an athlete’s point of view I was really scientific.’

Last year I just left it up to Allah and said to myself I’m going to eat when I’m going to eat.’

For two out of the four games he played during that period, Williams picked up a player’s player award.

‘Funny story - last year I actually fell asleep on the team bus going to the game. I broke fast just before I hopped on the bus to go to the game, and I had a bit too much. Your energy is zapped after you eat too much, so I fell asleep heading into Eden Park before the big game. So I learned [that lesson] early!’

How does your Ramadan diet differ from the rest of the year?

For some, fasting during Ramadan might seem like a drastic change of habit. But Sonny explains that there are some similarities between his Ramadan and his year-round diet.

Well obviously we’re getting up in the early hours of the morning and having something to eat which I don’t usually do. I love my food. My wife’s awesome in the kitchen, so I find it very hard to keep myself in check when there’s food around. 

I’m at my healthiest when I’m following the Sunnah (muslim etiquette of eating).

I eat predominantly protein meat, but I eat fresh fruit and veggies as well. And that doesn’t differ when I’m in Ramadan at all. That’s the diet I try and live by. I do a bit of intermittent fasting every now then [outside Ramadan]. But [following the Sunnah] for me is the perfect diet. A lot of experts at the moment are talking about how important fasting is. So I try and implement that into my diet regime.

What food do you miss from New Zealand?

‘I would probably say the island food.’ Sonny tells us. ‘The raw fish, we call it oka. We have a dish called chop suey, we have a potato called taro that I don’t really eat that much. But the meal I probably miss the most is oka with chop suey.’

In a final message for the fans, Sonny told us:

The competition will come back soon. And God willing, we can carry on our form from the last game. Thank you for all your support. We’re training hard. We’re working hard. Even though I’m enjoying myself at home with my family, I’m still training every day besides one day a week, and still looking forward to getting back out there and playing some good footy. I know all the other lads are in the same boat.’ 

What effect has lockdown had on Ramadan and Eid in 2020?

For many people observing Ramadan, the coronavirus lockdown has presented quite a few challenges. 

Perhaps the most obvious is the practical issue of not being able to attend prayers because of social distancing, with these activities now being done at home. 

For many there’s also the mental aspect of being locked down for the Eid celebration. Normally a time where friends and extended families gather together, this year, for many Muslims in the UK the festival will be a more modest affair; and it’s likely people will feel the difference when not permitted to spend Eid with the people they normally would.

But COVID-19 poses some challenges to the fasting element of Ramadan too. In an article on coronavirus and Ramadan last month we wrote that, because fasting can sometimes have an effect on the immune system, people who are ill with symptoms have been advised to not fast until they have recovered. 

For the latest guidance on coronavirus, please visit the gov.uk website.