How does alcohol affect our training?

People often wonder how does alcohol affect our running, training and performance. Many runners love to finish a long run or race with a nice cold beer, or have a glass of red wine to celebrate a great performance. Having a beer or a glass of wine once in a while won’t make a big difference in our performance and health, but consuming alcohol frequently or large amounts can have several side effects that will impact our overall training, performance, speed and endurance levels. When we are looking into improving our fitness level, or training for a specific race we have to focus on the continuous gains and improvements that are made through the long, arduous training. Alcohol can have long term effects when consumed regularly.

Side effects of alcohol for runners and athletes:

More prone to injury: Alcohol alters the sequence of the different phases of our sleep cycle, which reduces the body’s ability to store glycogen and amino acids- this will affect the energy supply and impair the metabolic process during training. Both glycogen and amino acids are crucial for training, low levels of both could reduce our speed and endurance, and may lead to injuries.

Increase of Cortisol- Stress hormone: We often feel like consuming a glass of red wine in the evening will help us to relax, it actually increases the amount of stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol can reduce the human growth hormones by up to 70%. Human growth hormones are vital for both building and repairing muscle tissue.

Can cause dehydration: Alcohol is a powerful diuretic, it increases the production of urine, meaning it can cause severe dehydration. When dehydrated, our body is at greater risk of musculoskeletal injuries such as cramps and muscle strains. To recover from too much alcohol, it is very important to hydrate well during the following days, since alcohol has negative effects on the water balance in our muscle cells. It actually prevents our cells from performing their natural function of producing a compound known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the energy our muscles need to contract. When those levels go down, so does our performance.

Affects muscle protein synthesis: Our body’s largest tissue- skeletal muscle covers our skeleton, holding both bones and joints in the correct position and controlling every movement of the body. Our body goes through a period of muscle protein synthesis, where muscle cells generate new proteins which is necessary for the skeletal muscles to benefit from training, recovering, growing and adapting. Without this process, we would never improve or would be constantly injury-prone. Alcohol has a major impact on muscle protein synthesis, reducing it by almost 1/3.

Lowers the testosterone levels: Drinking alcohol triggers a multitude of chemical process in the body, it releases a toxin from the liver that attacks the testosterone hormones, which is essential for allowing the muscles to grow and regenerate.

If you are a runner who enjoys a post-run beer or glass of wine with dinner, go ahead as long as you drink in moderation, occasionally and make sure you hydrate well.

Train Hard, Eat Right, and Feel Great!