Does alcohol slow us down?
The days of Tour de France riders hydrating mid-race with wine, beer and champagne (Bicycling 2016) are long behind us and generally speaking, we all know that excessive alcohol consumption can harm our physical and mental wellbeing.
*Photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic on Unsplash
That said, whether a social few after a busy week at work, a celebratory champagne or a glass with dinner to wind down, alcohol is incredibly present in our lives. Plus, a crisp, cold beer can seem like a fitting reward to a hard and hot day in the saddle!
If you are cycling for health, peace of mind and just love exploring the countryside with a good old–fashioned non-competitive sportive, chances are good that drinking moderately isn’t going to harm your ability to roll over the finish line and scoop up your medal. But what is the effect of drinking on our sporting performance?
Firstly, keeping good health is key to being consistent in our training (and most things in life!) Though several studies tout the health benefits of some wine and beers, the fact remains that most people are drinking far more than the recommended guidelines. Research also suggests that alcohol consumption suppresses the immune system, making you vulnerable to illness – which in turn knocks out your training schedule and morale. Knowing when to rest and when to train plays a key role in keeping you healthy but it is safe to assume that low to moderate alcohol consumption gives your immune system the best chance of performing well.
It is widely accepted that your quality of sleep is compromised by alcohol. Sleep is the most important weapon in your recovery arsenal (and it’s free!) Essentially poor sleep equals poor recovery which impacts your ability to handle training load and increases your risk of injury and illness.
Many people who sign up to an event do so to help maintain a healthy weight. And in turn, a healthy weight can aid positive performance. Given alcohol is relatively calorific, with few nutritional benefits, sticking to a low to moderate amount of alcohol will help you maintain a healthy size for your physique (NHS).
Though some pros swear by one glass to aid with relaxation and pre-race nerves, overall there are few benefits to drinking alcohol when it comes to athletic performance. Common side effects reported by athletes include dehydration, heavy legs, fatigue, slow reaction times and a tangible loss of strength and endurance. This 2018 GCN Show episode gives a great summary.
You can mitigate the effects of alcohol by eating something nutritious first, drinking water between drinks, limiting the amount you drink on a single occasion – two drinks is a good guideline – and taking at least two alcohol-free days a week.
The GCN also make the interesting point that whilst alcohol has few benefits for general health and performance, cutting every pleasure out of your life for the sake of performance may inadvertently have a negative psychological effect. Essentially, pursuing moderation may be more beneficial to your performance than total abstinence, if that level of strictness makes you feel deprived, unhappy or more prone to binge.
Looking to cut down? Some tips
All considered, lowering your alcohol consumption seems a no-brainer for anyone training for an athletic event in 2020. But this is easier said than done! As the almost 4 out of 5 Brits who admit they drink more than they want or intend to (Alcohol Change UK Dec 2019) will attest to.
Here are some tips if you are looking to reimagine your relationship with alcohol:
- Book an event! For many people, having an athletic event booked, whether a race or a non-competitive sportive, gives them the social excuse to reduce their alcohol consumption in the face of adult peer pressure. “Ah sorry mate, I would love to but I’m running a marathon on Sunday” has quickly become a well-tested ‘get out of jail free’ card for those looking to avoid the round of tequila!
- Focus on what you are gaining, not on what you are missing out on. Better sleep, no more hangovers and brighter skin to name a few. The most compelling reason? More money to spend on your bike...!
- For those who look forward to a cold, refreshing lager on the finish line, there are more and more low alcohol (2%) and alcohol-free beers making their way onto the market. Erdinger Alkoholfrei has B vitamins and is isotonic – making a great choice for those who want to enjoy a beer without compromising health and performance.
- The Hello Sunday Morning blog is a great place to explore whilst the NHS has some practical Tips on cutting down*.
What are your thoughts? Do you drink and train? What are the pros and cons for you?
*Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash
*For anyone worried that their drinking has tilted towards problematic or addiction, we would encourage you to speak with your GP and seek professional help.