6 Ways Alcohol Affects Athletic Performance

Jacqueline Ho Jul 18th, 2014 (updated Jun 9th, 2015)
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We’ve all heard that drinking a lot of alcohol is bad for your health, but it can be especially harmful to people who are active. Whether you’re an elite athlete or just someone who tries to get a few workouts in each week, here are six reasons to be cautious when it comes to when and how much you drink.  

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Dehydration
Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that after consuming it, you may become dehydrated. Avoid drinking alcohol the night before a race or an intense workout since this will cause you to be partially dehydrated when you wake up. If you do consume alcohol, drink more water than usual the next day to stay hydrated.

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Electrolyte depletion
Electrolyte depletion

Your body loses electrolytes as you sweat and alcohol further depletes your electrolytes. The main electrolytes--sodium, potassium and calcium--are important for your nervous system, your heart and your muscles. You can help yourself maintain proper electrolyte balance by eating bananas or oranges for potassium and consuming sports drinks to replace sodium and potassium.

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Body temperature
Body temperature

In both cold and hot conditions your body regulates itself to try to stay at an ideal temperature. However, when your body contains alcohol, it is unable to regulate its temperature as effectively, so your body could lose or release more heat than it should or normally would.

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Balance and coordination
Balance and coordination

It’s common knowledge that balance and coordination can be affected while you’re drinking alcohol. However, your balance and coordination can still be off-kilter the next day. If you find this is the case, take a break and lower the intensity of your workout. Stop if the symptoms persist.

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Total work output
Total work output

One beer here and there won’t do much damage, but if you’re in peak training mode abstinence may be the best way to go. The effects of alcohol can linger and impede progress you would otherwise be making in training and conditioning. Because drinking alcohol can reduce your total work output, your results won't be as good as they would be if you don't drink.

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Recovery
Recovery

Your liver plays an important role in your body’s recovery process. Since alcohol is processed by the liver you should avoid drinking any alcohol if you want to recover as quickly as possible. If you do choose to drink, you should try to consume an equal amount of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume.