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Can I Drink Alcohol While Training For A Half Marathon?

Who has ever heard the saying, “Pick your poison?” This phrase speaks louder than you think. Don’t worry I’m not an anti-alcohol, banging on pots and pans, monger. I recently wanted to lose weight and guess where I found my extra calories coming from….beer! Yeah, beer! I love and hate beer. I would love it more if it didn’t put the empty calories back into my body along with its poison. As a runner, you can’t be out pushing for PRs and placing wins, if you drink more than your share multiple times a week. Let’s take a dive into some of the reasons to ease up on the hefty IPAs and double and triple mixed cocktails.

Alcohol lingers for up to 72 hours

Not only is it a good idea not to drink on race day, drinking two nights before a race day can still have lingering effects. Your body wants to desperately exude alcohol from your system. In fact, it’s your body’s top priority. Your body doesn’t care if you need your glycogen more effectively, it just wants the alcohol out pronto.

Have you ever wondered why you feel like someone has run over you with a train after a night of drinking? It’s even more challenging to put on your running shoes and head out the door. If you think that running will knock out the alcohol quicker – nope. Why do you feel better after you’ve run and “sweated out the alcohol”? What’s probably happened is your endorphins have kicked in and gave your body running high masking some of your pain.

Good old time is what really plays the pivotal role of flushing the alcohol out of your system. As I get older, if I drink past my usual few beers, I will feel the effects of it that last for at least 24 hours. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have any problem at all waking up with no hangover in sight.

Empty calories lack nutrition for runners

An empty calorie is nothing more than a zero nutrition calorie. Although you are getting a minimal amount of nutrition when you compare apples to oranges in this case 10 g of alcohol to 10 g of strawberries. There is absolutely no comparison as to which one is better for your body. The strawberries give you nutrition while the alcohol is next to nothing when looked at from a nutritional point of view.

Alcohol causes irregular sleep for runners

  • Your body will miss out on much-needed REM sleep which is when your body is doing the most repair work.
  • causes an accumulation effect because the loss of sleep which turns out to be a not so great workout due to the alcohol residing in your system

Drinking the night before race day isn’t smart

Your body’s first priority is to get rid of alcohol. So when you sleep the night before with alcohol in your system, it puts everything else on the back burner until the hangover is gone. By the time it takes the alcohol to be flushed out of your system your race might already be over.

Alcohol interferes with a runner’s recovery

Recent studies have shown that alcohol interferes with the building and repairing of your muscles during the anabolic state (resting/sleeping).

Alcohol adversely affects both anabolic and catabolic pathways of muscle-mass maintenance.” (2017, Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications, Liz Simon, M.V.Sc., Ph.D., Sarah E. Jolley, M.D., M.Sc., and Patricia E. Molina, M.D., Ph.D.)

The same study also concluded that alcohol was a signicant factor in, “Decreased regenerative capacity of muscle progenitor cells which is emerging as an additional mechanism that contributes to alcohol-induced loss in muscle mass and impairment in muscle growth.

Another study in 2020, concluded that, “A single dose of alcohol significantly disrupted several components of the core molecular clock, as well as downstream targets within skeletal muscle. Therefore, dysregulation of the skeletal muscle core clock may contribute to alcoholic myopathy…” (2020, Drinking ‘Off’ the Clock: Effects of Binge Alcohol on the Skeletal Muscle Core Clock, Abigail Tice Jennifer Steiner Bradley Gordon).

Does your physical fitness play a role in how quickly you recover from a hangover?

I actually think it does, based on my own experience. I was on a fishing trip with a total of four guys. We all had about the same amount of alcohol to drink. We were away from our wives so we drank more than we probably should have. The next morning everyone but I had a killer hangover including throwing up. I felt a little uneasy but no upset stomach. Also, later in the day, I was feeling a lot better than the rest of the pack.

We all went to bed at about the same time. The major difference that I could tell was that most of my fishing friend’s weights weren’t in any good physically fit shape. Also, you can’t throw age in the equation because I’m older than most of them by about 5 years. I looked for science to back this up but I came up with some strange articles that I would rather not share. I am guessing that when you’re body is more fit, it metabolizes quicker, and coverts alcohol quicker and sends it on its way.

Try to avoid these situations when training for a half marathon

  • Don’t drink the night before a race (preferably 48 to 72 hours before a race)
  • Try to only drink after your body is properly hydrated after a long run (water and nutrition first)
  • Only drink when you don’t have to run the next morning (this will help keep extra calories off and help your body repair properly)
  • Keep your drinking to a low level of consumption (2, maybe 3 drinks at most)

Don’t stop drinking alcohol and definitely let loose when the time is right. There is nothing like drinking a beer after a great race!

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Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach. He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 13th half marathon race. 

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