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Original Issue

Fasting and Playing

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS linebacker Saleem Rasheed is a devout Muslim--he prays five times each day--and with the holy month of Ramadan starting on Oct. 15, he is about to go four weeks without food or water during daylight hours. "It's a cleansing process," says Rasheed, 23, who has fasted during Ramadan since he was 12 and living in Birmingham. "I never feel better than I do during Ramadan because I'm focused. It teaches me self-restraint and discipline."

The 6'2", 229-pound Rasheed, in his third year out of Alabama, deals with the fasting by waking at 4:45 a.m. to eat protein-rich meals (eggs, sausage, pancakes) before dawn and having meat-and potatoes dinners after sundown. ("I have to be smart about my health, but at the same time I live within the etiquette," he says. "During Ramadan you are supposed to eat as if you weren't fasting.") To guard against dehydration--there are no Gatorade breaks for him when the defense comes off--he "starts drinking water as soon as the sun goes down, and I'll keep drinking throughout the night even if I'm not thirsty."

Rasheed says fasting has never hindered his performance--but he does appreciate night games during Ramadan, such as the 49ers' 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31 game against the Bears, during which he'll drink all he needs. "The coaches just ask me to be smart and do everything I can to keep myself healthy," says Rasheed of his fasting. "They've all really respected my religious beliefs." --Amanda Cherrin