Running 20 km through Baltimore County is daunting. Quiet roads weaving in and out of farms, through horse country, underneath the sunshine, is beautiful. It’s the perfect solitude built for a runner’s high. The wide-open roads make you feel fast – that is, until headwinds come rushing down the gently sloping green-grass hills, your average pace drops, and you realize you’ve got another 800 feet in elevation, another 10 km on the proverbial “long-road-ahead.”
Fighting a headwind and attempting to stay at tempo, my Garmin watch beeps (yells) at me – my average pace is no longer “tempo,” and my ego hurts. Strava will know I’m slow and I won’t be able to humblebrag to my followers with a revised “afternoon run” description.
Like I said, “daunting.”
The only thing keeping me going is the thought of an ice-cold beer and a solid post-run dinner, followed by a bottle of wine, while comfortably ensconced on a couch re-watching “Billions” season four, before the premier of season five on Sunday evening.
Quarantine has been great for my training. I’m averaging 64 kilometers a week, and despite my obvious consumption (and love) of beer and wine – it’s not affecting my training or my fitness goals. Here’s why –
A group of researchers got a bunch of athletes drunk and made them workout to test the results of alcohol consumption on strength and endurance activities. And, nothing really happened.
The athletes were given the equivalent of about six drinks and then tested for strength and endurance; before, during, and 24 and 48 hours after ingesting the alcohol. The researchers expected poor results; however, the alcohol had no observable effects. And, there was no increase in creatine kinase, which is a fancy way of saying there wasn’t any indication of muscle damage in the athletes.
In another very similar study, athletes were given five drinks before exercise – the booze had no effect on isometric strength, muscle stiffness, muscle soreness, or creatine kinase. Compared to the study’s alcohol-free group there was no difference.
Here’s the interesting part of all this research: for endurance athletes, alcohol doesn’t seem to interfere with glycogen replenishment after depletion. That is super important when you consider running, swimming and cycling deplete an enormous amount of glycogen, especially if you’re a competitive endurance athlete with multiple events in one day or back-to-back days.
One study gave endurance athletes the equivalent of 10 drinks following intense glycogen depleting workout. There was a statistically insignificant lag in glycogen re-synthesis at the eight-hour mark and none after 24 hours.
I guess it’s encouraging to know that if a cyclist is dumb enough to slam down 10 drinks after a race when he knows he has another in eight hours, his body will still store enough energy to compete. Perhaps that’s why red wine is a staple at the team-dinner tables of most pro cycling teams?
So, what’s actually bad about alcohol and how will it negatively affect endurance training/competition?
Simply put, it’s dehydration. And, the more concentrated the alcohol source, the greater its ability to dehydrate.
Drinks containing 4 percent alcohol or more increased urine output. That includes just about anything stronger than light beer. Hard liquor has an especially potent diuretic effect. For example, an ounce of an 80-proof beverage (40 percent ethanol) contains 10 milliliters of ethanol and 15 milliliters of water. Yet study subjects ended up urinating 100 milliliters, or four times as much booze as they drank.
Binge drinking and performance generally don’t mix well, but once again, it’s endurance-type work that takes the biggest hit with dehydration. Long days in the saddle, on the road or in the pool require near perfect hydration to compete at the highest level.
Based off of the research – balance, moderation and hydration are the key to not allowing alcohol to interfere with your training or fitness goals. If I was binge drinking every night while watching re-runs of “Billions” or “Game of Thrones” (amongst other shows streaming across countless streaming networks) the effects on my training would likely be detrimental.
Hydration is essential to performance. During prolonged endurance exercise in the heat, the importance of maintaining adequate hydration becomes crucial as dehydration of as little as 2 percent has been shown to affect performance.
So, to help our tribe out I’ve outlined a guide to health benefits associated with moderate consumption –
Moderate beer consumption (11 to 22 ounces per day) improved immune response in two recent studies. Another study showed it improved concentrations of blood lipids. Drinking three to four glasses of beer a day reduced C-reactive protein (linked to inflammation and heart disease) and fibrinogen (linked to blood clotting and thrombosis) by 35 percent. This points to an anti-inflammatory mechanism that could partially explain the link between moderate drinking and a lower risk of heart disease.
A variety of studies have shown the cardioprotective benefits of roughly one or two glasses of red wine per day. The nutrients in wine (such as reservatrol and proanthocyanidin) and the alcohol benefit your heart in different ways. The nutrients combat oxidative stress, while the alcohol improves vasodilation and blood flow. Other benefits include increased HDL and reduced blood clotting. And, darker varieties of beer and wine tend to have higher polyphenol content.
With all of that being said, here’s the SATIA NYC disclaimer: if you don’t already drink, there’s no reason to start. And if you drink a lot, you risk a lot. If you practice moderation and you don’t consistently wake up with a hangover there’s no reason to quit. And, most importantly – stay hydrated. If you follow those principles it’s likely you’ll continue achieving your training and fitness goals.
So, cheers to quarantine. And cheers to another hydrated training session powered by a post-run libation.