I enjoy a relaxing beer or a glass of wine on the weekend, but when it comes to a race weekend, I often have internal arguments with myself debating whether or not to skip the alcohol in case it affects my race performance the next day.
Does it really hurt to have a few? Will it make me too dehydrated during my race? What are the impacts of alcohol before a big race?
Impacts of alcohol
After some research, we found that alcohol can:
- Make you dehydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic which makes you need to wee more, and results in dehydration (for up to a week after drinking!).
- Make you more prone to injury. Being dehydrated can cause injury, as you are more at risk of cramps, strains and pulled muscles.
- Increase the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Disrupt the body's way of handling training and slows down healing. For training you need to build and repair muscles (with the help of the human growth hormone). Cortisol reduces the level of human growth hormone.
- Alter the sequence of different phases of sleep and decrease sleep length and quality. Sleep is very important for athletes and cyclists to assist in muscle growth and recovery.
- Reduce the body's ability to store glycogen, which is a crucial energy source that you'll need for endurance cycling events.
- Delay the recovery process (especially for drinks higher in alcohol).
- Cause a release of toxin from your liver that attacks the hormone testosterone, which is also needed to allow muscles to grow and regenerate.
- Add kilojoules (especially if drinking long term). The body tends to use alcohol as a fuel source when consumed, rather than fat. So if you are drinking all the time, it won't help you keep low body fat levels.
- Inhibit your body absorbing nutrients from food. Thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc are all are important for cyclists by helping performance, endurance and the formation of new cells. You want to absorb these!
That is a seriously long list of negatives. The facts just keep getting more and more depressing.
Drinking the night before an event
Taking into account all those negative effects, I think it is safe to say that you shouldn't drink too much, if at all, the night before a race. It will affect your race performance and recovery. It prevents your body from doing all the things it needs to do to get better (e.g., absorbing nutrients, building muscle). Alcohol takes it all away.
In moderation, and with some 'smarts' about you (from this article), then you might be able to mitigate some potentially bad effects. If you do have a few, make sure you drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Effects of alcohol during training in the lead up to the event
You might be wondering about the effects of alcohol during training. We aren't talking about drinking at the same time as riding, but rather, having a drink in between training sessions. Although, it actually seems to be popular to drink during cyclocross events and singlespeed mountain bike racing...
Should you give up drinking completely when you are training for a race? Sadly, the longer-term impacts of alcohol mean that you may not recover as well as you could. You'll be sleeping worse and may be carrying excess weight. Excessive drinking (e.g., five or more drinks per night) on the weekend could counteract the hard-earned results of months of hard training.
If you are okay with minor lapses in training, then sure, go ahead and have a few, but remember to drink fluids post training and eat good food in conjunction with good beer.
Drinking straight after an event
Drinking right after a race can mean that you don't adequately take part in your post race recovery routine. You might opt to skip a protein drink in favour of an ice-cold beer. Then, while sipping the beer, you grab a handful of salty chips rather than the nutritious food that your body needs to recover. Then you grab your second beer as the first one went down too easy, while forgetting to stretch. This is going to increase your recovery period and make it harder to get back to the peak fitness where you were.
If you want to celebrate with a drink, make sure you do a proper recovery routine first.
There has to be some benefit... is there?
With all this anti-alcohol news killing our post-race celebration buzz, we dug deep to find any kind of good news for those who like to have a drink. Turns out people who like to exercise also like to drink; in an article posted by the New York Times, research found people who exercised also consumed more alcoholic beverages, especially on the days of more intense exercise. Further research suggested that there was a direct correlation between your post workout high and an alcohol induced buzz. To put it in plain English: having a drink or two after an intense workout will enhance and prolong the natural high you get from exercise. There have also been studies linking moderate alcohol consumption and longer life, so longer life means more time to train...? Might be a stretch, but we'll take whatever good news we can get!
It's common to see high profile cyclists on the podium enjoying a drink. Who can forget the famous downhiller world champion, Steve Peat, who openly shares that he enjoys a drink; "Drink beer and have fun...ha ha."
I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you'll be ditching the drinks while training or before a race. For me, I think I'll stick with what Steve Peat said.