Should you drink alcohol if you’re training for a run?

Alcohol is a drug, but it is not usually prohibited in sports or much discussed. For instance, there are no “hard and fast” rules about alcohol consumption for racers and marathoners. Maybe that’s because drinking alcohol doesn’t seem to have any performance-enhancing effects.

How does alcohol affect a runner who is training for a race? Is it a good idea to cut out alcohol while training? If so, why? 

Listen to “Should you drink alcohol if you’re training?” read aloud by Stephanie of runstrongrun.com

Effects of alcohol consumption

Here’s how alcohol affects the body and how those effects may impact your ability to train for a foot race:

  • Dehydration. If you’ve ever been hungover, then you know the feeling of being severely dehydrated from alcohol. The hydrating properties of the water content with alcoholic beverages isn’t enough to counter the effects of alcohol. Alcohol causes the body to produce more urine than normal, which earns alcohol the label of a “diuretic.” For every 10 grams of alcohol you drink, your body will, on average, produce 100 mL of urine, according to some research. That means a standard beer (12 ounces or 340 mL), containing about 14 grams of alcohol, will cause you to urinate roughly 140 mL of liquids. You lose more than a third of your beer to urination, thus depriving your body of the hydration it needs.
  • Poor Quality Sleep. Consumption of alcohol can also impact your sleep quality and circadian rhythm, your inner clock. If you consume even a standard drink of alcohol, then your sleep cycles can be thrown off for that night. Alcohol disrupts your body’s ability to produce melatonin, the hormone responsible for making you fall asleep. Alcohol also prevents your brain from getting REM sleep, meaning the quality of your sleep will be poorer on nights when you consume alcohol.
  • Reduced Physical Recovery. Perhaps most important to your running and training regime is your ability to recover after strenuous exercise. According to research, if you skip your healthy, post-workout recovery meal for a “recovery beer,” it can reduce your ability to recover for up to five days. Consumption of several drinks can contribute to unhealthy weight gain since alcoholic beverages are full of empty calories that have no nutritional value to your body. A poor diet equals poor fuel for your body.

Connecting the dots

So, how do all of these issues affect your training regime? For starters:

  • The dehydrating aspect of alcohol means it’s a terrible idea to drink before training or a race. You will be dehydrated and unable to perform at your peak. 
  • Poorer sleep quality will impact your ability to become well-rested, recover overnight, and feel energized and motivated.If you drink too often and/or too much, then you will begin slipping down a slope of decreasing energy. 
  • Since alcohol decreases your ability to recover and will negatively affect your diet, your ability to recover after workouts will diminish.

How some runners approach alcohol

One marathoner, who just goes by “Brina” and has five marathon and 20 half-marathon wins under her belt, stops consuming alcohol a full four weeks before a race. According to Brina, her body can only be “on point,” or at the peak of its ability to perform athletically if she abstains from alcohol before a race, including during training. 

After a night of drinking, Brina says her ability to run is impaired. It becomes more difficult to complete training runs because she feels more tired than normal, and her ability to get oxygen to the muscles takes a hit, too.

The good news is that small amounts of alcohol won’t massively impact a runner’s ability to train. The runner, however, will suffer more, recover less, and more slowly, and race performance will decline if runners do not keep alcohol consumption at a moderate level or below.

With athletic performance at stake, an athlete who can’t stop may have a substance use disorder. Fortunately, alcohol recovery centers are quite good at identifying those with addictions and treating the substance abuse behavior.

So, the next time you go out for a training run and feel like downing a beer or glass of wine afterward, consider whether the potential impacts are worth the long-term effects.

Should you drink alcohol if you're training for a run?

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 

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