Should an athlete drink alcohol?

Many athletes enjoy celebrating a hard workout or competition with alcohol. Especially as the weather warms up, alcohol consumption tends to also increase. But what impact does alcohol have on athletic performance, if any? Read on to find out.

One of the goals post-workout is to replenish body stores of carbohydrates that were depleted during exercise. Alcohol may interfere with our body’s ability to replenish these carbohydrate stores, but this can be overcome if ample carbohydrates are consumed alongside the alcohol. However, most athletes who consume large quantities of alcohol will have a reduced carbohydrate intake and not follow the recommended carbohydrate consumption guidelines.

Alcohol consumptions is also often discouraged since it is a diuretic, meaning there is in excess of 10 ml of urine for each gram of alcohol consumed. However, the diuretic action of alcohol is blunted when an athlete is already dehydrated. Additionally, alcohol can actually help restore hydration when large quantities of dilute alcohol are consumed. For instance:

  • 25 ml of spirits (40% alcohol) contains 10 g of alcohol so would result in a urine output of 100 ml and a negative fluid balance of 75 ml (100 ml- 25 ml)
  • 1 pint (564 ml) of beer (5% alcohol) contains 28 grams of alcohol so would result in a urine output of 280 ml and a positive fluid balance of 284 ml (564 ml- 280 ml).

As discussed last week (click here), to restore fluid losses, sodium should also be consumed alongside fluids. There’s a reason salty nuts or pretzels are served at bars!

Alcohol may impair the recovery of muscle damage that occurred during exercise. Recommended treatments for muscle damage include things that will reduce blood flow such as ice, compression and elevation of limb. As alcohol is a peripheral vasodilator and will increase blood flow, it is often recommended to avoid post-exercise as, in theory, it would interfere with muscle damage recovery. However, there is limited experimental evidence to support this. On the other hand, alcohol decreases sleep quality, which may indirectly interfere with recovery and often results in inappropriate behaviour that could lead to injury.

Finally, the aftermaths of excessive alcohol intake such as headaches, nausea, lethargy, sweating and thirst will likely impair performance. Any athlete who has experienced a hangover will know this. Aerobic capacity seems to be especially negatively impaired post-alcohol consumption. In fact, the negative effects on aerobic performance can even be seen with small doses of alcohol consumption.

While I don’t suggest drinking to the point of intoxication, alcohol can certainly be included in an athlete’s diet. Like all foods and beverages, it comes down to moderation. If you are going to have alcohol post-exercise, try selecting a beverage with 10% alcohol or less to help with hydration and ensure that you are consuming ample carbohydrates with salt alongside your beverage of choice.

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2019-04-29T18:41:15+00:00 April 30th, 2019|

About the Author:

Learn to fuel your health and performance with Megan Kuikman, Registered Dietitian. Megan provides professional nutrition advice that you can trust. To work with Megan, call: 519-802-9445 or e-mail megankuikmanRD@gmail.com.