Let’s face it, we all crave those crisp bubbles, that white foam, the subtle bitter hops and fruit. There is something special about coming together post-run, and clinking your glasses with your fellow runners, cheers to another successful track session/ mountain mission. And let’s be honest, deep down we know that it is likely not the best form of recovery, but it fills the soul with happiness and satisfaction, and surely thats enough?
We dissect why alcohol may not be the best form of recovery juice, but also why, in moderation it’s not going to throw you completely out of whack. Don’t worry, its not all doom and gloom here.
Alcohol is preferentially metabolised in your body by the liver. This means that before you can process any of the other macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, or fats – that you consume, the alcohol is broken down first by an enzyme called Alcohol Dehydrogenase. Due to this, it reduces the rate at which your body metabolises and makes use of the carbohydrates or proteins that you may consume. as a result it limits you from restoring your liver glycogen stores, inhibits the formation of new glucose molecules which may lead to hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) because the uptake of glucose, and glycogen restoration in your skeletal muscle, is inhibited and reduced respectively. Recent research shows, however that it doesn’t completely inhibit these processes unless you are having a real bender.
As part of an optimal nutrition and refuelling strategy, it is recommended that one consumes a good dose of protein and carbohydrate post exercise, as well as ensure proper rehydration. Glycogen stores are depleted during more strenuous activity and the optimal timeframe for synthesis and storage is highest directly post exercise, and decreases rapidly after the initial few hours. Similarly with protein synthesis, adaptations and muscle repair, the optimal timeframe for rapid protein uptake is within the first half hour, and in conjunction with carbohydrates (this prevents the protein being used for energy instead of muscle repair/building). The amount and timing of this depends on various factors such as how strenuous the activity was, what type of activity it was and how soon the next bout of activity will be. So if you consider that alcohol displaces the metabolisation of carbohydrates and proteins, then it stands to reason that when you consume alcohol you prevent the optimal replenishment of your glycogen stores and muscle damage control.
This isn’t a train smash if you’re more of a social runner, or you’re not doing multi-day stage racing or are needing to do a quality session the next morning or in a few hours (hello double days). If you are, consider refuelling prior to your social drink, in order to optimally replenish and repair. Then you can enjoy a cold one responsibly knowing you are more ready to go.
Alcohol, as we all know, is a well-known diuretic (it makes you need to pee). Post run, you’re most likely already in a dehydrated state and so to consume a beverage that, while satisfies the soul, is actually making a problem worse is not an ideal situation. Having an adequate water balance is important for recovery and injury prevention. When you are properly hydrated you are able to optimally produce ATP (the energy molecule responsible for, well, life, but for causing your muscles to contract and help repair muscular damage), and you are less likely to get muscle strains or joint injuries. In saying this, a moderate alcohol consumption post run is not going to make one shrivel up into a raisin. Just be sure to drink that beverage with some non-alcoholic electrolytes or water.
Just so we are on the same page, the new recommendation for moderate consumption is 1 unit per person per day, male or female. This is also not an average, so you can’t be good for 6 days and on the 7th consume all 7 in one go. This binge puts you at a similar risk for lifestyle diseases as a consistently heavy drinker.
When you exercise, you raise your cortisol levels (inflammatory hormone), which is needed to help repair and protect in the acute phase of recovery. If we now go and binge, however, on three, four, five alcoholic beverages post exercise, you are attenuating the stress response which can be detrimental to recovery and repair, increasing swelling. If you have an existing injury this is particularity deleterious to your recovery. In saying this, moderate consumption has shown no significant effects on raising cortisol above normal levels. So be responsible/
So where does that leave us? Alcohol consumption in moderation is not really going to compromise your recovery as long as you are responsible. Drink other fluids, consume some actual food (beer doesn’t count as food) and stick to the guidelines.
We at run are all about community (please don’t hate us for this – we aim to educate as well), so leave us a comment with your thoughts below!