A blog by runners. For runners.

To drink or not to drink: alcohol and running performance

alcohol affects on running

Some runners say beer and running go together like peanut butter and jelly. The frothy brew can be found at nearly every finish line, and many runners rely on “liquid carbs” to help fuel them through a tough training cycle.

Runners who drink alcohol are hardly alone. Alcohol is the most frequently consumed drug among both competitive athletes and habitual exercisers alike. What’s more, results from a study of 230,000 men and women on drinking and physical activity show the following:

  • People who drink alcohol are 10 percent more likely to participate in vigorous exercise than non-drinkers.
  • Heavy drinkers work out an average of 10 minutes more per week than moderate drinkers and 20 more minutes each week than non-drinkers.

Bottom’s up!

Drinking and running seem to go hand in hand, but is this really a good practice?

Not only do some runners hit up happy hour every evening as a reward for their hard work, but some runners take the opposite approach. It’s not uncommon to hear of athletes who abstain from drinking during training.

According to the experts, if you’re healthy, neither extreme is necessary (drinking is not safe for runners with specific health problems or who take certain medications.) Moderation is the key. Drinking alcohol in moderation — that’s up to one drink per day for women and two drinks each day for men — doesn’t generally hurt – or help — running performance.

Think before you drink

If you choose to drink alcohol, keep the following in mind:

  • Consider skipping the post-race beer. Finishing a race warrants celebration, but save the bubbly for later. Drinking alcohol dehydrates you, and at the end of a race, you’re likely already a bit dehydrated. If you need the taste of beer after a run, running expert Hal Higdon recommends the non-alcoholic variety.
  • Don’t run after a night of excessive drinking. Postpone the run and plan better next time. A night of binge drinking reduces blood flow to your muscles and leaves them weak. Running with a hangover can lead to injuries. Worse, you could wake up still drunk. Running while intoxicated is never a good idea.
  • Pay attention to how much shut-eye you’re getting. Alcohol is known to disrupt sleep cycles. Drinking too much before bed can lead to a restless night’s sleep. This is bad news if you’re training for a marathon, for instance. During periods of intense training, athletes need extra sleep to train well and keep their immune systems strong. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try drinking less alcohol.
  • Factor in your goals. If you’re an elite runner or want to win a race, abstaining from alcohol during training may not be a bad idea. Not only does alcohol cause dehydration, but it also negatively impacts the body’s energy supply and messes up the metabolic process.

Written by Jen Matz