There’s a group of runners in Peru who get together each month for a long run and a communal drinking session. Members jokingly refer to themselves as a drinking club with a running problem. But the truth is that mixing alcohol and athletics is not a joking matter. Alcohol derails athletic performance in a number of ways.
The impact of alcohol on sports performance has been studied by University of Auckland, Australia professor David Cameron-Smith. Cameron-Smith warns that drinking hurts performance in the short-term and in the long-term.
Most people realize that drinking the night before a big race or major competition will result in a less than stellar showing, but they may not fully understand why. And many have no idea that drinking hurts runners, and other athletes, long before race day.
How Sleep And Performance Are Affected By Alcohol
To begin with alcohol impedes a normal sleep cycle. Disrupted sleep does more than make you cranky the next day. It also impairs your ability to hold onto glycogen. And athletes want plenty of glycogen. Glycogen is an energy reserve that the body will tap into during tests of endurance.
Sleep interruptions also raise cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone. The problem with increased cortisol is that it correlates to reduced healing. Thus, the sleep problem winds up becoming an injury-recovery problem. That is a big problem for the serious athlete.
Cortisol also tamps down the body’s production of human growth hormone, some say by nearly 70 percent. Testosterone production is also inhibited by the presence of alcohol. Since these two hormones are crucial to the body’s ability to build and repair muscle, their depletion will affect how hard and long athletes can train. Without optimum training there can never be optimum performance.
Alcohol And Hydration
The more obvious problem of athletes’ drinking has to do with hydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it stimulates the body’s elimination of liquid. Add to that the fact that alcohol limits sugar glucose and you find that muscles have trouble contracting and endurance is harmed.
Lastly, Cameron-Smith reports that alcohol diminishes the ability of joint and bone muscles to be stressed, recover and grow as a result. This is called muscle protein synthesis and it’s what makes time in the weight room pay off. Drinking can reduce the process by as much as 30 percent.