Why You Should Avoid Alcohol While Training for a Race

It’s that time of year again: New Year’s resolutions time. People have made their New Year’s resolutions and strive to accomplish their goals. Of course, what’s the most popular resolution out there? Running! Whether it’s a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon, training for an upcoming race is a common way to get in shape and feel confident in the new year.

Needless to say, one of the most important components when training for a race is your diet. What you eat and drink throughout the training time plays a huge role in how well the race goes. And what’s one beverage with a notoriously negative impact on training? Alcohol. If you strive to live a healthy lifestyle while training for an upcoming race, consider avoiding alcohol these next few weeks. Here are some ideas why.

Alcohol dehydrates you.

Ask any runner, and he or she will tell you: hydration is key when it comes to training. Your body runs on water, which means if you want to perform well athletically, then hydration is critical. Hydration can even impact your body’s ability to recover and repair post-workout. Alternatively, alcohol actually dehydrates the consumer.

According to Salty Running, alcohol dehydrates you by affecting the water balance in your cells. This puts you at an increased risk of cramps, pulls and strains, and impairs your cells’ ability to make glycogen, the fuel your cells use to make energy for endurance. Which means if you consistently drink while training for a race, you dehydrate your body and make training more difficult and dangerous.

Alcohol affects your sleep.

We’ve all been there: the morning after you’ve had a bit too much to drink, and your head feels groggy from lack of sleep. When training, your body needs to be in tip-top shape so you can perform to the best of your ability. Sleep plays an essential role in our health, so when alcohol affects your sleep, it also influences your health.

In an article by TIME, Hal Higdon, the author of Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, says, “Sleep loss is another [negative] factor that comes from drinking. When you’re training for a marathon, you likely need extra sleep. If you have an early training run after a night out, you’re not going to be able to train well.” Without adequate sleep, you also run the risk of getting sick, which could severely affect your training and the big race day. More often than note, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and protect your healthy sleep patterns by avoiding alcohol.

Alcohol has empty calories.

Your diet has a huge influence on training efforts, including the calories you take in. If you consistently consume alcohol during training season, you absorb a numerous amount of “empty calories.” Runners Connect explains this: “Alcohol is metabolized in the body as fat. The by-products of alcohol metabolism are converted to fatty acids, which are stored in the liver and sent to the bloodstream. The more alcohol you drink, the more you raise the level of lipids in your blood.”

These empty calories have little to no nutritional value and can add up over time, potentially leading to impaired liver function, lower metabolism, mineral depletion and weight gain (even when you’re running). This means both large and small amounts of alcohol consumed during training can still have a negative effect on your health.

Alcohol slows you down.

Ultimately, drinking alcohol during training season can slow you down by its influence on your muscles. TIME says, “Excessive drinking can also reduce your muscle blood flow which weakens them. Running when your legs are feeling a hangover could lead to injuries.” For instance, most training programs for long races are approximately 16 weeks long. This is because when training, you physiologically change the cellular structure by strengthening your muscle cells to perform more efficiently.

On the other hand, alcohol increases the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which then reduces the human growth hormone by up to 70%. These hormones are necessary for your muscle repair and growth during the training process. Over time, consistent alcohol consumption can impede your muscles from repairing, slowing your race times down. Which means if you want a fast race, alcohol should not be on the drink list.

As we head into the new year, people everywhere eagerly cling to their New Year’s resolutions, including running a race. No matter how far you plan on running on this year, consider eliminating alcohol from your diet and substituting it with a healthier alternative. You will feel healthier, happier and more prepared than ever to run your fastest race yet.