Alcohol and Running
You’ve been training hard—chalking up one mile after another. Many people like to unwind or celebrate their hard work with an alcoholic beverage or two, as drinking and running are often linked in good fun. But, what does the research say about the two?
As a runner, you are either recovering from a run or preparing for a run. Does alcohol impact your running performance? What about your recovery?
How much alcohol is too much?
This post will cover everything you need to know about alcohol and running.
Is Running After Drinking Alcohol Safe?
Your friends want to go out for drinks but you have a training run planned the next day. And if you’re figuring out what to eat the night before a long run, can you pair a beer with it?
Will those drinks have an impact on your training? Is it safe?
Let’s review some of the consequences of running after drinking alcohol.
Fatigue and Low Motivation
Well, first of all, your motivation will likely suffer. Your good intentions for that planned run may go out the window if you are hungover.
Poor Sleep and Low Energy
Not only does alcohol negatively impact your mood, but your sleep may be interrupted—leaving you with low energy levels.
Chronic sleep disruption is linked to a slew of health problems.
Next, a night of drinking may cause dehydration.
In addition to increasing your risk for injury, a dehydrated run is going to hamper your performance. You can prevent dehydration by alternating water with alcohol during drinking.
Impacted Cognitive and Neurological Function
In addition, alcohol consumption can impact your reaction time and neurological function.
So after drinking, you may not be as quick to respond to a dip or rock on the trail, which may cause trouble for ultra runners.
For these reasons, running after alcohol is likely to impact not only your performance, but your recovery as well.
How Does Alcohol Impact Recovery?
Eating the right foods will help aid your body in recovery after a run.
But what about alcohol – does it have any impact on recovery after a half marathon or general long run?
Your body recovers every time you have a training run. That recovery is essential for your next performance.
During recovery, your blood supply is optimized and your body returns to a normal, more fit state. Your muscle fibers, which developed microtears from your exertion, are repaired.
This muscle repairing, or muscle protein synthesis, is in fact impaired by alcohol intake.
So if you regularly drink alcohol, you may find that you’ll feel sluggish in your training.
If your muscles aren’t adequately repairing, you will be at greater risk for future injury.
Not only that, your endurance and speed will suffer.
So, drinking and running may be okay if you’re not training for anything.
But, if you are in a training cycle, looking to PR, or putting in high mileage weeks, limiting or avoiding alcohol before and after runs may be prudent.
Definitely focus on nutrition through food first and foremost.
How Does Alcohol Affect Glycogen Levels?
Glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver. As a runner, glycogen storage is essential for your next run.
Your body stores glucose as glycogen and uses that stored fuel during endurance exercise. Your liver is also responsible for processing alcohol.
Drinking alcohol after your run may decrease glycogen synthesis.
Not only does alcohol impair your body’s ability to store glucose as glycogen, but it may also impact how your body makes new glucose (gluconeogenesis).
If your body doesn’t have adequate glucose stored and is unable to efficiently make new glucose, you are at risk for low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) during a run.
Can You Drink Alcohol After Running?
You’ve finally crossed that finish line and it’s time to celebrate. While having a post-race beer is something many runners enjoy, it is not the best way to rehydrate.
Alcohol has a diuretic effect, which means it can dehydrate you. You’re already in need of rehydration when you finish a race, and would be better off drinking some of these recovery drinks for runners.
Dehydration can cause muscle cramping, increase your risk for illness, and impair your recovery.
Signs of dehydration include headache, fatigue, dizziness, cramping, thirst, nausea, lack of appetite, lightheadedness, and more. Pay attention to your body after the race.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a cold one. But beer isn’t a recovery drink.
Prioritize running hydration after your race. Combine that post-race beer with water, sports drinks, or milk so that you can achieve fluid balance.
You’ll also want to limit your alcohol intake. It has been shown that up to 22 oz or 660 mL of alcoholic beverage when consumed with rehydration drinks, has no negative effects.
So, alternating between alcohol and water, for example, can reduce the negative implications and help you remain hydrated.
How Much Alcohol is Safe?
In order to reduce the impact of alcohol on your recovery and running performance, it’s recommended that alcohol be limited to 0.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Runner or not, moderate alcohol intake can prevent some of the major health consequences of drinking.
If you are pregnant, have specific health conditions, and/or suffer from alcoholism or addiction, you should not drink any alcohol at all. Running and alcoholism do not mix.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, alcohol intake should be avoided or limited to 1 drink per day for females and 2 drinks per day for males.
What is considered a drink, or about 14 grams of alcohol?
- 5 oz wine
- 12 oz beer
- 1.5 oz hard liquor (vodka, gin, etc.)
- 8 oz malt liquor
Alcohol and Weight Gain
Drinking alcohol may also lead to weight gain.
Alcohol has very little in the way of nutrient value but can quickly pack in a lot of calories. Especially if you are mixing alcohol with simple sugars like juice or soda.
A drink may contain between 100-200 calories, sometimes even more. Not only that but after a few drinks, you may not be making the best food choices to properly fuel your body.
You may not notice a difference if you’re having an occasional drink—but too much of anything can lead to weight gain.
Additionally, alcohol abuse can lead to a host of long-term health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Are Certain Drinks Better Than Others?
If you do choose to drink, there are better choices.
For instance, red wine has proven benefits. Red wine is high in flavonoids and antioxidants, which can improve cardiovascular and metabolic health.
The key is moderation.
Beer varies widely in its alcohol content. Some beer has less than 4% alcohol, while some craft beers may have 6-12% alcohol.
Try to choose accordingly to decrease the detrimental effects of too much alcohol. Usually, hard liquor is mixed with something high in quick carbohydrates.
As a runner, you need carbs for running, but the carbohydrates you get from soda or juice as mixers are not optimal for recovery.
In short, alcohol consumption can have some effects on running performance and health, but the extent may depend on how much you drink, what you’re eating or drinking alongside, and how far or long you’re running.
Having a drink or two to celebrate your PR will not kill your running career.
Again, moderation is everything. Just be sure that you focus on your hydration and nutrition.
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