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Should You Give Up Alcohol During Marathon Training?

After missing a long run due to one too many drinks the night before, The Runner Beans decided to go dry until the Boston Marathon.

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It’s 4 p.m. and I’m struggling to get out of bed; a 15-miler Boston Marathon training run is looming but my head is pounding and my stomach doesn’t feel right. It’s self inflicted after a few too many Gin and Tonics watching the England rugby match the previous afternoon.

I didn’t run.

I knew it wouldn’t do me any good to push through the miles, dehydrated and feeling miserable. I felt guilty, angry with myself and disappointed that I had sabotaged my training. I sheepishly texted my coach to tell her the news.

I had recently written a blog post and written about just how much I wanted to run a BQ, and then there I was drinking so much that I was skipping my long run. What a hypocrite.

So that evening, I decided…no more alcohol until after the Boston Marathon.

I’ve never given up alcohol before when marathon training—although I know many people do—but this time I’m willing to do everything to make April 17 the best race of my life. No more excuses. After announcing this on Instagram, I received an incredible amount of support, and unsurprisingly, a number of other runners who had gone dry in preparation for the 26.2.

So that’s my reason to give up alcohol, but I wondered whether there were more serious reasons to stay off the booze while training (aside from the hangovers).

It affects your recovery.

You may feel like you’ve earned that post-hard run beer, but it will contribute to your dehydration and may reduce your body’s ability to recover and repair. If you do still want to enjoy a cold one, do so after rehydrating properly with plenty of water as well as eating something filled with protein.

Improve your sleep.

You never sleep too well after a few drinks, and we all know just how important sleep and rest is while training. Disrupted sleep affects your circadian rhythm, altering levels of hormones in the body that produce antibodies fending off illness. Tiredness can also cause you to overeat, over-caffeinate and train poorly.

Empty calories.

The calories can quickly build up, offering no nutritional value and potentially adding a couple of unnecessary pounds or hiding the results of your hard work in the gym and on the track during training.

Negative impact on your muscles.

Studies have discovered that alcohol consumption decreases the use of glucose and amino acids by skeletal muscles, adversely affecting the energy supply and impairing the metabolic process during exercise, as well as affecting the body’s ability to store glycogen—both which are crucial for training. This could reduce your speed and endurance, and may lead to injuries.

Increasing stress within the body.

Although you might think that your evening glass of wine helps you relax, it actually increases the amount of stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol could reduce your human growth hormone by up to 70 percent, limiting your body’s ability to build and repair muscle.

Reduced speed.

According to studies by the American College of Sports Medicine, even a small amount of alcohol can adversely affect psychomotor skills, maximum aerobic power and your body’s temperature regulation mechanisms during exercise, which could negatively impact your race-day performance.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Personally there have been training cycles filled with weddings and bachelorette parties where I wouldn’t have wanted to give up alcohol. I need to know how to drink in moderation without ruining my training and limit the missed runs due to hangovers. Plus, there are some benefits from drinking, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.

As Meb said, ‘”If you’re one of the many runners who enjoy a post-race beer or a glass of wine with dinner, I’m okay with that. But be sure you’re completely rehydrated from the day’s running before you have any alcohol; otherwise, you’ll slow your recovery.”

If you are going to drink, here’s what you need to keep in mind when choosing your drink…

White Wine: A small glass contains 130 calories and 2 units of alcohol. Apparently, if drunk in moderate amounts it can help keep your lungs healthy through antioxidants that stop harmful molecules growing in that area. However, it makes your stomach secrete extra acid, irritating and inflaming the stomach lining and making you feel sick.

Red Wine: It packs more potassium, iron and phenolics per glass than its white counterpart. If you’re planning on indulging in more than a glass or two then be prepared for a mighty hangover—the congeners cause blood vessels in your brain to constrict resulting in pounding headaches and nausea.

Champagne: A study found that 3 glasses a week could stave off brain disorders including dementia and Alzheimer’s, although the benefits only occur after the age of 40. The bubbles in the champagne can cause reflux and heartburn as it weakens the valve between your stomach and oesophagus.

Gin: With 72 calories in a glass, and only 1 alcohol unit per glass, it may seem like a good option; however, it’s also one of the more dehydrating of the alcoholic drinks out there.

Vodka: It’s highly distilled and purified meaning it’s not so mean to your stomach, and without preservatives meaning your head shouldn’t pound quite so hard—watch what you mix it with, though, as high calorie soft drinks can really add up.

Cider: High in iron and potassium, it’s proven to improve high blood pressure and heart disease—YES! It is quite high in calories though, and with 3 units in a pint, you might consume more units than you’re aware of.

Lager: High in calories, it’s also an appetite stimulant. However, a low alcohol percentage should mean that one or two every now and then won’t do too much harm.