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March 18, 2017

Too Much Sauce? The effects of heavy drinking before a run

Every year, on March 17th, millions of Americans will celebrate an Irish holiday by consuming large quantities of alcohol and wearing green. How much? A reported more than 56% of Americans indicated participation in St. Patricks Day. Something like $5.6 billion is spent on alcohol and more than 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed.

As the prophet Gucci Mane put it so eloquently, don’t get lost in the sauce

(the jury is still out as to what sauce really means, but in this instance I relate it to drunkenness)

So if you are just now recovering from this post-unofficial-American-Irish holiday stupor, get your Pedialyte and read on.

Now, this isn’t to advocate for binge drinking. Drinking can have extremely deleterious effects on your physiological development as a young person. It is pretty much poison. 

If you are of legal drinking age, you most likely have found yourself consuming this strange elixir. Many find themselves met with a long run after a night of relative debauchery. Now you may or may not be the person who can get hammered and proceed to hammer a run, but you know someone who can. You might think to yourself – HOW? This human was dancing on tables and shotgunning beers last night and is now pushing the pace on a 20 miler. Well, let’s take a look at what, if anything, alcohol does to your body before and after a run. 

The Evidence

A recent paper in the Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine poses that alcohol consumption has no significant negative effect on anaerobic performance. YAY. Distance runners rejoice. But wait, sprinters are in luck as well. If we’re interpreting this right, another study finds that there is no change in strength and power following alcohol consumption. In fact, some alcohol is actually beneficial to your body and cardiovascular system. Red wine contains a chemical known as resveratrol that reduces your blood pressure, and consequently protects your cardiovascular system. Like my grandpa always says, red wine is good for the ticker. This comes from a man who walks on the treadmill and lifts daily. At the young age of 83, I’ll take his word for it.

But hold off on the beer bong for a minute my friend. This is only one side of proverbial coin. While a hungover run can lead to one of the better workouts of your life, don’t you dare get lost in the sauce. A threshold exists where too much alcohol consumption can lead to negative aerobic performance.

Cofan and colleagues describe an alcohol intoxication threshold of 20mmol/L of ethanol, beyond which performance suffers. For reference, >17.4 mmol/L is considered positive for driving under the influence in most states. Further, alcohol consumption leads impairment of balance, reaction time, visual search, recognition, memory and accuracy of fine motor skills. All of these effects can lead to bad shit happening on a run. 

Okay, so maybe one less shot when you go out and you will be fine right? Wrong. One night of heavy drinking might not kill your fitness, but there some big reasons to avoid making a habit of it. 

First: dehydration. Alcohol is a natural diuretic, meaning it makes you pee a lot. This leads to severe dehydration which can affect you for up to a week after a big night! Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and strains, and can lead to your cells inability to produce ATP aka muscle energy. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

Second: sleep. Alcohol use is intricately linked to a disturbance in sleep length and quality. Usually this comes with a shorter time of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and an increase in sleep at stage 1. Though you might get a longer night of sleep after drinking, it isn’t the best kind of sleep. The line between high performance and injury prevention is quality recovery. Get your beauty rest my friends. 

Third: skeletal muscle recovery. These are kind of a big deal. Skeletal muscles keep our bones and joints together, and basically help us move in every capacity. Why is alcohol bad for these babies? To put is shortly; muscles perform protein synthesis to grow and recover and alcohol impairs this process. Damn. 

Anecdote

One of the key determinants of success is not just event-day performance, but the continuous gains and improvements that are made through the long, arduous grind of training. Most people should be aware of the impact alcohol has if you consume it the night before a race, but not everyone appreciates the disruptive impact it has on the way your body adapts to handling the training, and that’s the most important part. – Professor David Cameron-Smith of Auckland University
Don’t get lost in the sauce and we hope you feel better.
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