Whether you’re a casual jogger or a pro athlete, the effects of alcohol on athletic performance can seem like a mystery. Countless athletes embrace drinking as part of their routine, while still seemingly performing at the top of their game. Others avoid alcohol entirely, claiming abstinence keeps them in better shape.
So which is it? What does the research have to say about alcohol and athletic performance? Can you still be a spectacular athlete while drinking weekly or even daily?
Below, we’ll cover alcohol’s effects on performance and training, whether you should drink when preparing for a big game, and how to cut back if alcohol is preventing you from performing at your best.
Does Alcohol Put You at a Disadvantage in Competitive Sports?
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among athletes1. And as you probably know, excessive drinking has its downsides. But the timing, dose, and frequency of alcohol use are critical factors in whether or not it disadvantages you.
For example, a few beers before a game can cause more than enough impairment to hurt your performance. But a glass of red wine a few days prior to a competition might relax you, which may actually be helpful.
However, there are also cumulative, long-term effects of drinking alcohol that might undermine you no matter what. A lot of it comes down to how much, and how often you drink.
Acute Effects of Alcohol on Athletic Performance
For most people, alcohol can be perfectly healthy in moderation. However, consuming alcohol right before a game or competition is never a good idea—and this includes the night before. (Yes, hangovers can harm your athletic performance2.)
Alcohol’s effects on training are similar. Intoxication, or the lingering effects of it, can limit your sports performance in several ways:
- Alcohol influences your motor skills and cognitive functioning. This can lead to slower reaction time and poor coordination when it matters most.
- Booze can prevent you from staying hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes your body to flush out water through your urinary system at a rapid pace.
- Your endurance could suffer. One study3 found that even a small dose of alcohol was enough to reduce endurance in trained cyclists.
- Alcohol may impair muscle recovery. Research has found that alcohol use can impair protein synthesis4, making it harder for your body to repair muscle after physical activity.
Do Famous Athletes Drink?
Many famous athletes are immersed in a culture where alcohol is used to celebrate wins, and even cope with losses. So, while it may not always be beneficial, many pro athletes do drink.
However, there are many that avoid alcohol altogether because they don’t want anything to prevent them from being in top-notch shape.
All in all, moderation is key when it comes to sports and alcohol. The professionals who drink are able to maintain success because they find a balance. And most importantly, they don’t let their drinking habits cause them to lose sight of their goals.
Alcohol and Performance: Should You Drink When Training for a Competition or Big Game?
Due to alcohol’s effects on athletic performance, you may want to steer clear of drinking before a competition. Or, at the very least, keep it light. Sports and alcohol—especially excessive amounts of alcohol—don’t always mix well.
It’s likely that one or two drinks in the days leading up to a game won’t destroy your chances of winning. But too much heavy drinking, especially close to a competition, can take away the edge you need to succeed.
Cut Back and Reach Peak Performance Again
If you feel like your alcohol use is taking a toll on your athletic performance, and you’re struggling to cut back, there are new, more convenient ways of getting help.
Ria Health’s online program gives you access to anti-craving medications, weekly coaching meetings, and even handy digital tools to track your progress—all through an app on your phone. Best of all, the program is designed to fit in with your routine, so you don’t need to rearrange your life to get support.