Is Alcohol Hurting Your Athletic Performance?

Image of glasses with white and red wine.

People who do sports tend to care about their figure and fitness. However, that doesn’t mean we want to pass on a beer after work with friends or deny ourselves a glass of wine on a warm summer evening. Alcoholic beverages are said to be bad for your athletic performance and figure, but is this really true? Find out below if alcohol and sports mix well together.

Close up of two beer glasses.

1. Alcohol contains lots of calories

Alcohol is an often underestimated source of calories: 1 g of alcohol = 7 calories. To compare, consider that carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories/g, and fat a whopping 9 calories/g. This means a half liter (17 ounces) of beer has more than 200 calories. A piña colada weighs in at nearly 400 calories due to the cream. To work off this amount of calories, you would have to run for about an hour.

What’s more, people tend to eat hearty, high-calorie foods when they drink alcohol. Since your liver is busy metabolizing the alcohol (with the help of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase), the extra calories are stored directly in your fat cells. What’s the result? You gain weight.

2. Alcohol slows down your recovery

You are definitely not doing you or your body any favors if you drink a beer after your workout. The alcohol delays the process of restoring your glycogen stores (carbohydrate reserves). This has a negative impact on your recovery after intense physical exercise.

Young woman is taking a short break in between her interval runs.

3. Alcohol dehydrates your body

Alcoholic beverages promote the excretion of water via your kidneys. Valuable salts are lost due to this increased need to urinate. This can really wreak havoc on your mineral balance and increase the likelihood of muscle cramps.

Rule of thumb: Whenever you drink a glass of wine, follow it up with a glass of water. Or go with a wine spritzer.

Young man is drinking from his water bottler after his run.

4. Alcohol impacts your sleep

Consuming large quantities of alcohol has a negative impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep. A good night’s sleep is crucial for athletes looking to improve their performance because it gives your body the time it needs to rest and recover.

5. Alcohol weakens your immune system

Are you often sick? The regular consumption of alcohol can weaken your immune system. Plus, it stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol. As the polar opposite of testosterone, this stress hormone breaks down muscle and inhibits the burning of fatty tissue.

At the same time, alcohol blocks the release of growth hormones. These are particularly important for recovering from a workout, torching fat and building muscle.

All these factors contribute to a drop in performance. Have you ever tried non-alcoholic beer? It is a good alternative and a perfect electrolyte drink after a hard workout. Most non-alcoholic beers are isotonic, which makes them ideal for replenishing lost electrolytes and fluids.

Bottom line:

Alcohol is considered to be a luxury good and should be enjoyed in moderation. The common guidelines for moderate alcohol use without health risks are a maximum of 10 g of alcohol for women (⅛ l or 4.2 oz of wine) and 20 g for men (¼ l or 8.5 oz of wine, 0.33 l or 12 oz of beer) per day. But generally speaking, it is not a good idea to have a drink every day!

If your goal is to maximize your performance, you should abstain from alcohol entirely because it will hold you back.

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Julia Denner Runtastic dietitian Julia is a creative cook. She is convinced that a varied diet and regular exercise are the keys to success. View all posts by Julia Denner »

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