I don't want this post to make me out to be some kind of drunk. I'm not, I don't binge drink, and hardly ever go out on the town like i used to. I now really only enjoy a few beers in the house at weekends and when the footballs on during the week, and the odd beer when we go out for a meal if im not driving.
Im kind of torn between the addiction and buzz i get from training and the relaxation i get from a beer or two when not training. I have in the past described myself as having an addictive personality, from smoking as a youngster to a short caffeine addiction more recently, both of which have been nipped in the bud. The beer issue is completely different, i wouldnt call it an addiction, ive never craved it like i did with the fags, but its almost become part of what i am, part of what i do at weekends, but i now want to break this pattern like i have done with the others. I also want to be in the best shape possible for this years events.
I have set myself a little challenge to test myself (apart from my birthday last thursday of course ;-)). Im aiming to stay dry for all of January, to eat better and to end up closer to a lighter weight which will make me a more effecient runner. Im currently just under 12 stone, the majority of this being muscle mass as im not excatly skin and bone. I reckon i could shed about 1/2 a stone over the next 5-6 months but maintaining the same muscle mass i.e. strength. Im hoping this will keep me strong for the ascents and descents and will be faster on the runnable sections therefore increasing my average pace. I currently (on the road) average a 7min 15 mile on a 9 - 10 mile run at moderate to fast pace and on a slow hilly off road/trail run 9 - 10 min miles. Im hoping to increase my running pace and reduce these averages as much as i can, even it is by only a fractions. Plus the health and well being benefits will also be a positive gained from this.
The reason I'm writing this is to force myself to look at the facts when it comes to the effects alcohol has on performance. Now I know the effect isn't positive, but I want to know by how much, and i am hoping maybe it will give me the knowledge and motivation to reduce what I drink, thus improving my performance.
Below are some of the effects i have found after some quick research.
- Alchohol is a diuretic as in it makes you urinate, which in turn makes you dehydrated, which is bad news for any type of athlete. Large amounts can put a lot of extra stress on your kidneys.
- If you are dehydrated from alcohol before starting a run, you may suffer from reduced muscle function sooner than someone who hasn't been drinking. According to the Human Kinetics website, dehydration causes a decrease in blood volume but increases the blood's thickness, meaning less of it is pumped around your body to reach and oxygenate your muscles. This causes them to work less efficiently and, therefore, you are forced to run slower.
- 'According to drinkaware website from the United Kingdom, alcohol is a depressant, which means that your central nervous system and brain function is reduced. This, in turn, says "Running Times," affects your balance, co-ordination and reaction times, all of which are necessary abilities for running at your best and avoiding injury.'
- Alcohol also depletes your electrolytes (potassium and sodium). So you need to replace those nutrients.
- Drinking alcohol 24 hours before running reduces the bodies capacity to regulate its temperature. If it is cold your body will lose heat quicker, if it is hot your body will struggle to cool itself enough, either way makes for an uncomfortable run.
- Alcohol affects sleep patterns, after a fairly heavy session you are in more of a drink induced coma rather than truly asleep, which is vital for proper recovery after training.
- It can also have (pretty obvious this one) a negative effect on balance and coordination, trying to negotiate a technical trail at a decent enough pace would not be as easy as if you were fresh.It can take up to three days for the body to completely purge all the alcohol consumed so it therefore can be imparing performance for that period, that and the reduction of the effect of the training and conditioning process currently being endured.Alcohol affects the body's ability to turn food into energy. Alcohol slows down reaction times, increases body heat loss and reduces endurance.An excessive session can also severly reduce motivation, who would want to go for a decent length run when hungover?
- The blood sugar your body needs for energy is produced by the liver, releasing glucose into the blood stream.
- Alcohol reduces your body's ability to produce this sugar, so you have less energy and less endurance. Strength, endurance, recovery capabilities, aerobic capacity, and the body’s ability to metabolize fat and muscle growth are all compromised.
- Alcohol can also affect your nervous system and brain. Long term use can cause deterioration of your central nervous system. With short term use, nerve-muscle interaction can be reduced, resulting in a loss of strength. Here are some of the possible outcomes.
- When alcohol reaches the muscle cells, it can cause damage. Inflammation of the muscle cells is common among alcohol users. Over the long term, some of these damaged cells can die, resulting in less functional muscle contractions. Alcohol causes more muscle soreness after exercise, making recuperation periods longer.
- Alcohol has many affects on your heart and circulatory system as well. Heat loss increases, because alcohol stimulates your blood vessels to dilate. This heat loss can cause your muscles to get cold, thus becoming slower and weaker during contractions.
- Alcohol can cause digestive and nutritional problems.
- Alcohol causes a release of insulin that will increase the metabolism of glycogen, making fat loss more difficult. Because alcohol also can interfere with the absorption of many nutrients, you can become anemic and deficient in the B vitamins. Your liver is the organ that detoxifies alcohol. The more you drink, the harder you liver has to work and this extra stress can damage and even destroy some liver cells.
I dont think ill ever be teetotal, but will definately watch what i drink after what i have learnt, but as an extract from a scientific study below states drinking alchohol and running is quite a good combination for the production of the good cholesterol (High Density Lipoprotein (reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease) which enable lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides to be transported within the water-based bloodstream).
'Men and women who drink alcohol are at less risk of cardiovascular disease than nondrinkers. The decreased risk may be due partially to alcohol-induced increases in high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol (the so called "good cholesterol"). Running also elevates HDL-cholesterol. Although some researchers have argued that consuming three beers daily is equivalent to jogging (with respect to raising HDL-cholesterol), running does not increase plasma triglyceride levels or blood pressure (two negative effects of alcohol).
- Running times.
- BBC Sport.
- Human Kinetics.
- drinkaware.co.uk: Effects of alcohol.
- Williams PT. Interactive effects of exercise, alcohol, and vegetarian diet on coronary artery disease risk factors in 9242 runners: the NationalRunners' Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Nov; 66(5):1197-206.)
I have been carrying out my own very unscientific experiment on myself. I havent touched a drop this weekend and there have been two noticable positives that have come from it. I felt much better in the last few miles of the 11 mile trail run i ran on Sunday (06.01.2013), i wasnt tiring as i neared the end and was 'flying' on the last mile feeling almost as fresh as at the start. Also i am less stiff today, all this is obvious i know, but having now experienced the difference first hand i now have a reason not to bother as much with having a drink. Hopefully from now i will see some improvement in performance and make it worthwhile.
Alcohol is high in calories yet has basically no nutritional value. More calories, together with a lowered metabolism, translates to weight gain. Bigger is not better in the world of endurance.
Additonal calories 200 - 250 in a pint of lager. Its easy to see with that calorie content how weight could be put on, or how hard it would be to shift. Ill post more on racing weight when i have researched further, i think it deserves a post to itself.
'Visions of an ice-cold, refreshing pint (me included) have gotten many a runner through a weekly long run. An endurance athlete serious about their sport, however, should educate themselves on the ramifications of alcohol use. Even an occasional drink can make a difference in training and racing.'
The bottom line
As with most things in life, everything in moderation.
Moderation? To a endurance athlete? A new concept maybe, but an important one for optimal performance.