We endurance junkies do like to drink. In fact, according to a study from the University of Miami conducted in 2009, heavy drinkers are often heavy exercisers, with the boozers doing an extra 20 minutes of hard exercise a week compared to their teetotal buddies. However as an endurance athlete it makes sense to get the balance right and if you drink more than recommended cut back, or cut it out. Here’s seven reasons why and ways to enjoy alcohol and perform well too.
1. STAY HYDRATED
Drinking makes you dehydrated — and so does running, cycling, climbing, walking. When you drink your kidney produces more urine, so you go to the loo more often; when you run you sweat more as your body temperature rises. Being dehydrated puts you at risk of cramps, and muscle strains — as well as making you feel weary and less able to perform well.
BOOZER RULE: Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have.
2. BALANCE THE SUGAR DIPS
Ever craved sweet stuff after a boozy night? This is because the liver can’t produce as much glucose, and so your blood sugar levels drop. When you’re running you need your blood sugar to be on an even keel and your glucose supplies to be high — as this is the primary source of energy for exercise (the other is fat).
BOOZER RULE: Ensure your diet is packed with low GI food. Enjoy sugar-free oats for breakfast, lean protein, wholegrains, and greens for main meals, and never drink on an empty stomach.
3. EMPTY CALORIES — AND A FAT BELLY
Trying to lose weight with running? Alcohol contains seven calories a gram. And the dreaded beer belly is not exclusive to men. One study published in the May 2011 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined whether various drinking patterns differentially affect fat distribution, particularly abdominal fat in women and men. Over a period of time, the study found that those who drank daily may be the same weight as a non-drinker, but they added inches to their waistlines.
BOOZER RULE: Cut back on booze calories by opting for low calorie mixers and white spirits.
4. DRINKING AND YOUR SLEEP PATTERNS
Sleep is vital if you want to run well, but drink more than the daily government guidelines of two to three units for women, and three to four units a day for men and you might start to feel tired. When you booze you go straight into a deep sleep, missing out on the first stage of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. But then the alcohol wears off and you return to the REM cycle, which is lighter, and easier to wake up from, hence the pattern of conking out, only to be wide awake a few hours later after a night on the sauce. A government poll of 2,000 people quoted on the website Drink Aware found that almost half felt tired the day after drinking more than the daily unit guidelines.
BOOZER RULE: As well as the usual rules, about eating before you go out, or with your alcohol, and avoiding getting too hydrated, it’s a good idea to have your last drink at least four hours before you go to bed — particularly if you have a long run planned the next day.
5. STUNTS YOUR MUSCLE GROWTH
Alcohol has a negative affect on muscle growth. It does this in a variety of ways. Drinking excessively can interfere with protein (essential for muscle growth) synthesis — the process where amino acids are joined together to form complete proteins, and it affects the levels of the muscle-building ‘male’ hormone, testosterone.
BOOZER RULE: All endurance athletes to pay attention to strength and conditioning. Ensure you keep your diet protein-packed, do weights, but most important, remember the above when you’re reaching for the next drink.
6. CAUSES AN IRREGULAR HEART RATE
Heart rate increases when you drink as does your blood pressure. This can particularly problematic for those with an underlying problem who then go and work out hard with a run, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
BOOZER RULE: This one is simple, drink in moderation. The benefits of red wine for heart health have been widely-reported — it’s down to the antioxidants, but remember you can get those from red grape juice too.
7. SLOWS DOWN RECOVERY
Alcohol can increase bleeding and swelling through a vasodilatory affect (ie increased blood supply to blood vessels). The liver helps the body recover from exercise and is also responsible for dealing with alcohol. It cannot do both things well — so recovery suffers.