Alcohol, Athletes and Pressure to Drink

Minimizing Negative Consequences

If you are among the athletes who choose to drink large amounts of alcohol, take note:

Alcohol is a depressant. Apart from killing pain, it offers no edge for athletes. You can't be sharp, quick and drunk. Pre-competition alcohol has a deleterious effect on reaction time, accuracy, balance, eye-hand coordination and endurance. It will not help you exercise faster, stronger, longer.

Late night partying--that contributes to sleep deprivation before the next morning's event--hurts performance.

Alcohol is a poor source of carbohydrates. You can get loaded with beer, but your muscles will not get carbo-loaded. A 12-oz. can of beer has only 14 grams of carbs, as compared to 40 grams in a can of soft drink. Eat pretzels, thick-crust pizza or other carbs along with the beer.

Alcohol on an empty stomach can quickly lead to a drunken stupor. Be wise; enjoy the natural high of exercise rather than get brought down by a few post-exercise beers.

Alcohol has a diuretic effect--the more you drink, the more fluids you lose. This is bad for recovery and the next exercise bout. While low-alcohol beer allows for proper rehydration, regular beer sends athletes running to the bathroom. One study showed that athletes who drank beer eliminated about 16 oz. more urine (over the course of 4 hours) than those who drink low-alcohol (2 percent) beer or alcohol-free beer(2).

Your liver breaks down alcohol at a fixed rate (about 1 can of beer or 4 oz. of wine per hour). Exercise does not hasten the process, nor does coffee. Caffeine just makes you a wide-awake drunk.

Drinks that contain congeners--whiskey, cognac and red wine--are more likely to cause hangovers than other alcoholic beverages. The best hangover remedy is to not drink excessively in the first place. But if you have a hangover, drink a salted beverage with carbs, such as Gatorade or brothy chicken noodle soup.

The calories in alcohol are easily fattening. People who drink moderately tend to consume alcohol calories on top of their regular caloric intake. These excess calories promote body fat accumulation.

Alcohol stimulates the appetite, making it harder to feel full. If you are trying to maintain a lean machine, abstaining is preferable to imbibing.

The Good News

Alcohol in moderation can have health benefits. Red wine, for example, contains health-protective phytochemicals that may reduce the risk of heart disease. What's moderation? Two drinks per day for men and one for women. And have at least one glass of non-alcoholic beverage for every drink.

Nancy Clark MS, RD counsels casual exercisers and competitive athletes at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA (617-383-6100). Her NEW 2008 Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook 4th Edition, and her Food Guide for Marathoners and Cyclist's Food Guide are available via

1. Perkins H and Crais D. 2006. A Successful Social Norms Campaign to Reduce Alcohol Misuse Among College Student-Athletes. J. Stud Alcohol 67:880-889.

2. Sherriffs, S., and R. Maughan. 1997. Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: Effects of alcohol consumption. J Appl Physiol 83(40):1152-1158.

Copyright April 2008
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