Have you ever finished a run or a race and then thought, “I really deserve a ______” (beer, glass of wine, ice cream cone – you fill in the blank).
I’m not going to talk ice cream cones today, but I do want to talk alcohol. Does a glass of wine or a cold beer affect our running performance? And, as a question posed on Eat 2 Run’s Facebook page asked, what does beer do for our recovery?
I decided to get real technical before writing this post – do some research, you know. So last Thursday I had a few glasses of Pinot grigio. Friday I did a real tough marathon pace run. Afterwards I indulged in a beer. Saturday morning I ran 33km easy. How’d I fare? Well, I crushed Friday’s marathon pace workout, hitting my paces and then some. Saturday’s long run just got stronger as I went, and I finished at marathon pace.
Not what you were expecting me to say, right?!!
I banned alcohol entirely from my training last year, while training to run a sub-3:35 marathon. I’d read a Canadian Running magazine article that quoted Peter Maher, a 2:12 marathoner who won the Ottawa Marathon back in the 1987, on why he gave up having pints after training runs, “Knowing what I know now about the science of running, even in small amounts the alcohol actually burns the mitochondria in the cells of the muscles you are trying to build during a session”.
I knew that already, I mean I’d studied stuff like that in class. But that just drove the point home and I decided not to drink at all while in training.
You’ve heard the story before. I went on to run a 3:33 marathon and qualify for Boston. In my mind, not drinking while training definitely played a role in my marathon success. However, I’ve talked with many a runner who has run similarly successful marathons without banning alcohol.
So… To drink or not to drink? It appears my drinks last week didn’t affect my performance, but I can assure you it affected my recovery. I know because Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday’s runs were terrible (on the flip side my husband partook in my ‘experiment’ also – and his running has been stronger than ever these past few days).
Here’s the scoop – three reasons a drink here or there might not be so bad for our running and three reasons that may make you want to totally give up alcohol while in training. Then you get to decide if you want that drink after you run 😉
Reasons To Drink
1. The One Thing
Okay, here it is. If you’ve got every other aspect of your diet down pat – as in you eat tons of veggies, lots of complex carbs, drink your antioxidant-rich recovery shake after every tough run, and avoid sugar and process cooking oils… Well then you’ve got some wiggle room.
We all have that ‘one thing’. That something we really, really enjoy. Just to kick back, relax and enjoy a ______ (another blank for you to fill in). If that something is a cold beer or a glass of wine, enjoy fully, completely and without guilt.
It’s true – one drink relaxes us and makes us feel good (it induces the release of dopamine in our brains). Of course, more than one or two in one sitting and alcohol becomes a depressant. Not good. Anyway, to share a drink with friends after a run is a social event that can be a highly enjoyable experience. I can personally attest to the fact it isn’t always a blast to the be one ordering cranberry soda.
3. There’s not really that many great reasons to drink
I’m sorry. I can’t think of a third reason to drink. I just can’t. No, I’m not going to go on about antioxidants of wine (resveratrol in red wine to be exact) or the potential cardiovascular benefits of alcohol – I just don’t feel the cons outweigh the pros. That said, if you’re going to have a drink, red wine is the best choice.
Reason Not to Drink
1. Burns our Mitochondria
This is the argument Maher used in giving up his pints. Mitochondria are the part of our muscle cells that produce energy and manage our metabolism. We grow and multiply mitochondria when we train. Alcohol (ethanol) creates free radicals. Free radicals destroy cells.
Essentially, instead of allowing our mitochondria to do their job of metabolizing our food and providing us with energy, they are being bombarded with damaging free radicals which are destroying some of our hard-earned muscle cells. Yikes.
2. Inhibits Recovery
Alcohol appears to inhibit recovery in three ways. First it is a diuretic, therefore of all the fluids you might choose to drink after your run, you will retain only 40% of them (required for re-hydration), compared to 60% if no alcohol is consumed. It means if you drink alcohol, drink more water to compensate.
Second, alcohol appears to impair glycogen synthesis immediately following a glycogen-depleting workout. This effect is diminished if adequate carbohydrates are consumed immediately following the run and continue to be eaten in the hours post-run. For the record, beer does not count as carbs – just sayin’ 😉
Third – and possibly most important to note – alcohol creates chronic systemic inflammation in the body and can delay recovery simply because it causes too much swelling around the muscles that require repairing. You need some controlled swelling for recovery to take place, but too much spells not good. Not good at all. I advise any runner with injuries or who are prone to injuries to avoid alcohol entirely. It’s just not worth it.
3. Inhibits Fat-Loss
If we know that our mitochondria manage our metabolism, it won’t surprise you to learn that while our bodies process alcohol, our fat-burning mechanism is completely turned off. We can’t store alcohol, the body must expel it. We can however, quite easy, store fat. I strongly encourage any runner who is hoping to reach their racing weight to avoid alcohol. For about 1.5 hours per drink, alcohol inhibits fat-loss, instead encouraging fat accumulation.
Do you partake in a glass of wine or cold beer while in training? Regularly or just one here or there? Or do you ban it altogether when in training for an important race? Let me know your thoughts on beer/wine and running below!
Happy running 🙂