Drinking beer outside
Does drinking alcohol really impact your endurance training? (Photo: urbazon, Getty Images)

Should I Give Up Alcohol During Training?

With dry January far in the rearview mirror, what are the benefits of staying sober as you head into the summer running season?

Drinking beer outside
Mallory Arnold

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This article was originally published on Triathlete.

Sometimes we do crazy things to prepare for our endurance events of choice.

We wake up at the crack of dawn for laps in the freezing water, squeeze in stretching time wherever and whenever we can (airports, at work, in line at the pharmacy), and become way too familiar with painful chafing. But even through all of this, the craziest training tactic for some endurance athletes is the idea of giving up alcohol. Is it necessary, or can you get away with Saturday night cocktail hour while maintaining a good training schedule?

The Case Against Alcohol

Regardless of how you feel on the topic, alcohol affects almost every part of the body. It especially impacts three things key to endurance training: hydration, sleep, and recovery.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means when you’re drinking, you’re constantly losing fluids. A compound called acetic acid breaks down alcohol while the rest is expelled as toxins through sweat, urine, and even your breath.

Drinking can also negatively affect your sleeping schedule; studies show alcohol messes with REM sleep. While you may pass out on the pillow easier after a few cocktails, you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and have poor sleep quality.

And last but not least, alcohol might slow down muscle recovery. Booze can negate protein synthesis, which is essential to muscle growth after strenuous exercise. This means if you still have alcohol in your system when you run or celebrate a Sunday long run with a few beers, your muscles may not recover as quickly. In fact, one study concluded that athletes who consume alcohol at least once a week are more likely to get injured compared to non-drinkers.

The Case for Balance

It might be possible to balance a healthy training lifestyle while occasionally enjoying a drink if you don’t overdo it. If you choose to drink, try to stick to these guidelines:

Use moderation. Don’t go overboard with the vodka cranberries. One or two drinks will suffice, but any more will be harder to recover from.

Time cocktail hour. Avoid drinking the night before tough workouts, intervals, and scheduled training days.

Choose wisely. It’s best to opt for drinks with low sugar and calorie content. A few good choices are vodka and soda water, dry white wine, and light beers.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. To combat dehydration, drink one glass of water per alcoholic beverage. You can also supplement the loss of electrolytes with your sports drink of choice.

To Booze or Not to Booze

The choice to drink while training for an endurance sport is a personal one, and we won’t give you a hard fast answer. But if you have a specific goal for your training like a specific PR time, alcohol may hinder that. The safest way to insure alcohol doesn’t impact your endurance is to avoid it altogether.

However, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy training and the occasional beverage with friends. Be mindful of how much you hydrate, don’t go overboard on cocktails, and time your drinks far away from difficult endurance days.

If you’re looking to substitute a happy-hour drink with a mocktail, we’ve got you covered:

Get the recipe here: Pineapple Hibiscus Mocktail

Lead Photo: urbazon, Getty Images