Beer miles, kegs at the finish line, capping the finish of a long training run with a cool beer, even beer consumed during long races…
Drinking (especially beer) is pretty deeply engrained in running culture; but how is it affecting your training?
We are generally a group of runners that pride ourselves on both not taking ourselves too seriously and also powering through masochistic days of training or racing. So, training hungover, capping a run with a drink, or generally drinking in moderation is not something we often think twice about. Few of us are pros where we need every little edge to have the highest performance each and every time on the trail.
Having participated in a few long runs after long nights out in my past, I have learned the hard way that the first 5 miles generally suck, but then things start to get better after you “sweat it out.” But even if you find you can power through that hangover, let’s take a look at how it might be affecting us.
First, the bad news:
We have probably all heard that alcohol can be dehydrating, as it acts as a diuretic. Part of the reason for the morning-after headache is dehydration. Ensuring you are drinking enough water both during the enjoyment of the beverages, and after, will help you to get back out on the trail easily. The old adage of a glass of water for every drink is a good one!
Alcohol interferes with glycogen synthesis meaning you aren’t able to replenish your muscles with fuel, leaving them tired and depleted. In addition, if you are consuming a beer post run, you likely aren’t consuming the recommended protein and carbohydrates needed to help replenish your glycogen stores, making your recovery slower and tomorrow a lot more “sore”.
Additionally, drinking increases inflammation by raising the epinephrine levels, effectively breaking down muscles instead of building them back up. Finally, those post run beers can also reduce quality sleep, which is the key for recovery of both muscles and the mind.
Alcohol causes hypoglycemia, electrolyte depletion, and gastric emptying. Have you ever noticed how you crave a big, salty breakfast after a big night out? Your body is telling you exactly what needs replenished. It will be extra important to eat something prior to your run and have an electrolyte supplement (coconut water, isotonic beverage, or electrolyte tablet) to avoid a bonk. And you will want to be prepared for a few extra pit-stops in the trees.
Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, whereas protein and fat are each 4 calories. If we are consuming alcohol, we are adding a lot of extra calories that our bodies may not need. Late night snacks following a few at the bar aren’t often salads and smoothies, but more often pizza, nachos, and other calorie-rich but nutrient-poor foods. We may feel that if the fire is hot enough, anything will burn, but quality calories are still very important.
Alcohol is processed in the liver, but so is lactic acid. If your liver is busy getting rid of the alcohol, it won’t be as available to help move the lactic acid from your muscles, creating fatigue much earlier than normal. Additionally, long term over-consumption of alcohol can lead to a fatty liver which will further slow the lactic acid processing even if you didn’t drink the night before.
Now the good news:
Trail running is a very social sport, and so is enjoying the happy hour after. Since we aren’t able to socialize as much as we used to, those opportunities where we can share a distanced drink following a run is even more enjoyable. Soak those up and enjoy it. The positive feelings you take away from that socialization is most important.
In a time in which our routines may be non-existent, or at least very different than they once were, it can be really helpful to mark the time with a nightly beverage. As long as you don’t start as soon as you come in from your morning run, having a ritual of an evening happy hour is healthy, especially in our current situation.
It is hard to be perfect all of the time
Being a perfect specimen of eating and drinking all of the right things, getting the perfect rest and recovery, and doing everything in a very calculated manner can be hard on your psychology, reducing your happiness and overall mental balance. Have that drink and relax a bit.
In general, following the CDC guidelines for healthy adults, women can enjoy one drink per day and men can enjoy two without any adverse effects on your running. If you have an especially big night out, it is best to be dry for 72 hours before you have a big running effort, since it can take that long for the alcohol to completely leave your system. While I don’t encourage over-consumption, most vices can fit into a healthy lifestyle, with moderation. If that means a nightly drink to celebrate a day well spent, then by all means, do it. If it helps you to relax, reflect, and otherwise enjoy the day, that is a wonderful thing to do, especially in these times. Just keep an eye on what healthy alcohol consumption can look like and continue to “cheers” to the epic days on the trails.