The Athlete's Kitchen - Alcohol & Runners

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The Athlete's Kitchen - Alcohol & Runners

Written by Nancy Clark MS,RD,CSSD on 28 November 2016.

Runners can be very competitive as athletes. Unfortunately, some runners can also be competitive as drinkers, not to be outdone by their teammates. Ask any coach or college athletic director, and you'll hear concern about alcohol and athletes' a dangerous duo, especially among team sports.

Excessive alcohol intake is associated with injuries, poor grades in school, arguments, sexual abuse, loss of memory, driving under the influence, and trouble with the law o say nothing of vomiting, hangovers and poor athletic performance.

Yet, celebrating wins with alcohol is perceived as the norm. Whether runners feel pressure to celebrate with alcohol or they just enjoy drinking, research shows serious recreational runners drink more than their sedentary counterparts, and college athletes binge-drink more than non-athletes.

Unfortunately, alcohol is a highly addictive substance and is the most abused drug in the United States.

What can be done about this problem?

To address alcohol abuse among student-athletes, many college campuses are educating students about social norms the beliefs about what is normal and expected in social situations. For example, despite popular belief, everyone does not drink nor do most students get drunk all the time.

A survey at Southern Methodist University asked these questions to students on a Friday about alcohol use on the previous night:

Did you drink last night?

Did you get drunk last night?

What percentage of SMU students do you think drank last night?

 What percentage of SMU students do you think got drunk last night?

The answers showed major misperceptions about alcohol norms:

-Only 20% of students surveyed reported drinking the previous night, yet they believed that over half drank.

-Only 8% reported getting drunk, yet they believed at least one-third got drunk.

-Of students who drank, most reported consuming only a few drinks per week.

Yet they believed most students were drinking 10 to 15 drinks per week.

-35% reported abstaining from alcohol, but very few believed that many of their peers were non-drinkers.

     At Dartmouth College, a typical social norms statement might be 74% of Dartmouth drinkers have zero to 4 drinks on the average Friday night.  That means,  not everyoneis drinking, and binge-drinking is NOT the norm! With ongoing social norm education, students will hopefully change their drinking practices. Given that athletes are often role models, reduced alcohol use among athletes can potentially have a positive widespread social benefit.

Minimizing negative consequences

If alcohol has a big role in your sports diet, take note:

Alcohol is a depressant. Apart from killing pain, it offers no performance edge. You can't be sharp, quick, and drunk. Pre-exercise alcohol hurts reaction time, accuracy, balance, eye-hand coordination, and endurance.

Alcohol has a diuretic effect; the more you drink, the more fluids you lose. Alcohol-free beer rehydrates, but regular beer sends you running to the bathroom. This is bad for recovery, bad for the next training run.

Alcohol stimulates the appetite. Moderate drinkers tend to consume alcohol calories on top of their regular caloric intake. These excess calories accumulate as body fat. If you want to maintain a lean machine, abstaining is more slimming that imbibing.

Your liver breaks down alcohol at a fixed rate: about one can of beer or 4 ounces of wine per hour. Exercise does not hasten the process, nor does coffee. Caffeine just makes you a wide-awake drunk.

Alcohol is a poor source of carbohydrates. You can get loaded with beer, but your muscles will not get carbo-loaded. A 12-ounce can of beer has only

14 grams of carbohydrate, as compared to 40 grams in a can of soda. Eat pretzels, thick-crust pizza or other carbs along with the beer.

Alcohol on an empty stomach quickly leads to a drunken stupor. Maybe you could enjoy the post-run natural high instead of getting brought down by a few recoverybeers?

Late night partying that contributes to sleep deprivation (as well as a hangover) can easily ruin the next days' run.

 Drinks that contain congeners whiskey, cognac, and red wines are more likely to cause hangovers than other alcoholic beverages. The best hangover remedy is to not drink excessively in the first place. But if you have a hangover, drink a salted fluid with carbs, such as a sports drink or chicken noodle soup.

Is there any good news about alcohol?

Yes! In moderation, alcohol can have health benefits. Red wine, for example, contains health-protective phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of heart disease.  A drink before a meal might improve digestion. A drink with friends brings social pleasure.

     When it comes to alcohol, the key word is moderation. Moderation means two drinks per day for men and one for women. To help enforce moderation, first quench your thirst with a non-alcoholic beverage, and then, if desired, choose the alcohol-laden option.

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and Food Guide for Marathoners are available at For workshops, see

Alcohol Calories Add-up Quickly

Common Drinks Amount(ounces)Calories

Pina Colada7     525

Mai Tai     4.5   350

Margarita   8     235

Red Bull & Vodka  10    210

Rum & Coke  8     185

Beer  12    150

Wine  5     120

Lite beer   12    100

One shot 80 proof alcohol 1.5 100


Read more of Nancy Clark's articles on -

2016 Sports Nutrition News from ACSM -


Taking Your Diet to the Next Level -


The Athletes Kitchen - Fighting Fatigue: Why am I so tired….???


Sports Nutrition Update: What Does the Research Say? -


The Athlete’s Kitchen For Weight-Sensitive Runners: Food for Thought -


The Athlete’s Kitchen: Hot topics in Food and Nutrition: Updates from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics -

 Fruits & Veggies: Do you eat too few? -

 Energy Bars, Gels & Electrolyte Replacers: Are they essential sports foods?

  The Athlete’s Kitchen - Travelling Runners & Gas Station Nutrition -

 The Athlete’s Kitchen - Weight-related Research from The American College of Sports Medicine -

 What’s New? Nutrition Update from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics -

ADHD, Runners & Appetite Issues -

To Eat—or Not to Eat: The Pre-Run Question -

Super Sports Foods: Do They Really Need to be Exotic? -

Carbohydrates: Why are they so confusing? -

 The Athlete’s Kitchen - Runners Staying Away From Carbs: Really? –

The Athlete’s Kitchen - Sports Nutrition: What’s Old? What’s New? –

March is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month -

Quality Sports Nutrition Information: At your Fingertips -

Getting Older, Day by Day -

More Sports Nutrition News You Can Use -

Sodium, Muscle Cramps and Sweat Losses: Tips for Sweaty Runners  -

Injured Runners: Nutrition Tips to Hasten Healing -

Why Can’t I Simply Lose a Few Pounds? Dieting Myths and Gender Differences -

 Lady Runners without Monthly Menses: A Cause for Concern -

Expanding Your Sports Diet: Seeds and Grains -

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Why Is Weight Loss So Hard…? -

Water: Droplets of Information -

Dieting—Not Allowed! -

Sports Nutrition News from The American College of Sports Medicine -

Should We Enable Obesity? -

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