Booze vs. Shoes: Can Alcohol Sabotage Your Running Goals?
Many runners enjoy a beer after training and races. Others will avoid alcohol for months in the lead up to an event. Some races, such as the “Beer Mile” and the “Marathon du Médoc” involve consuming beer and wine during the event! Is there a sweet spot, where alcohol can be enjoyed without impacting health and performance?
Can You Keep Your Balance? Alcohol impairs balance, coordination, and reaction times. Not exactly what you want when you're trying to smash your personal best! But for the brave souls running the Beer Mile, where you chug a beer every 400m during a 1.6km race, the effects of alcohol won't hit until after the race. Here, it's all about chugging skills and fitness levels. The same can't be said for the Marathon du Médoc - a 42.2km race with 23 wine stops. If you're going to sip on every glass of wine, there is no hope of a PB! Don't Let Alcohol Leave You Dehydrated Alcohol is a diuretic, which is a fancy way of saying it makes you pee more. That means you're more prone to dehydration, which can make your heart race, cause fatigue, affect your coordination, and make exercise feel tougher. To lessen the impact of alcohol on hydration, be mindful of staying well hydrated throughout the day. Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones like sports drinks or water, and munch on sodium-rich snacks to absorb more fluid and avoid dehydration. Electrolyte-enriched beers are a new trend, but watch out - the alcohol content can still make you pee more. The best option for staying hydrated and keeping your performance top-notch? Just say no to alcohol, especially if you've got an event coming up. Don't Let Alcohol Hinder Your Healing You might think a beer after a hard workout is the perfect way to unwind, but alcohol can mess with your recovery process. Alcohol can reduce blood flow, hinder tissue repair and alter hormones that regulate immunity. It can also delay your recovery meal, snack or drink. This means your body is deprived of nutrients it needs to recover and repair, like carbs, protein, and fluids. Alcohol can increase inflammation and swelling, which can impair the healing process of soft tissue injuries such as tendonitis. If you suspect a soft tissue injury, it's best to avoid alcohol completely during the recovery period. Alcohol may also cause or worsen gut issues after exercise. If you choose to drink alcohol after exercise, an alcohol dose of 0.5g/kg body weight (2 standard drinks for many people) is unlikely to impact most aspects of recovery. Prioritize your recovery needs by replenishing your body with the right nutrients first and you'll be back on the trails in no time.
Don't Let Alcohol Mess with Your Zzz's Getting enough sleep is crucial for both physical and mental recovery. When you're sleep-deprived, your endurance suffers, your reaction time slows, and exercise feels harder. Chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk of injury, since your body struggles to repair and recover from exercise. Alcohol can also mess with your sleep quality, making it harder to get deep, restorative sleep. So, if you're going to drink, do it in moderation and avoid drinking within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Give your body the rest it needs to recover and perform at its best.
Calories Do Count Alcohol is a high calorie fluid, which can derail athlete's goals in optimizing body composition for performance. Every gram of alcohol contains 7 calories, almost as much as fat, and much more than protein or carbohydrates. If you drink two glasses of wine every night, eliminating this habit can save you around 840 calories per week. Over time, this can add up to significant weight loss, especially when combined with a healthy diet and your many miles on the trails. Limiting or avoiding alcohol is a great way to ensure you’re not sabotaging all that hard training!
Mind your health Aside from the potential impact on athletic performance, alcohol also comes with a range of health risks. Sipping on more than your fair share can put you at risk for liver disease, certain types of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Alcohol can also increase risk of depression and anxiety, and can make these conditions worse. And let's not forget the increased risk of accidents and injuries, especially when you mix alcohol with other substances. Don't worry, you don’t have to give up alcohol entirely. According to the Australian alcohol guidelines, you can still enjoy up to 10 standard drinks per week and up to 4 standard drinks on any one day without causing too much harm. Keep on scrolling to see if your post-work glass of wine stacks up to one standard drink!
Summary An alcoholic drink or two every now and then isn’t going to hurt your next big race or health. If you’re drinking more than this, you may be hindering your health and performance through alcohol’s negative effects on brain function, hydration, recovery, sleep, body composition and health. A little moderation can go a long way in keeping you healthy and at the top of your game!
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