Alcohol after training or competing just doesn’t cut it for serious athletes!

The Introduction

alcohol drinksHow often do we see footballers scoffing down beers after games? In fact, how often have we done the same thing after a hard race or training session? Recent New Zealand research has shown what effect drinking alcohol after exercise can have on muscle strength and power and the news isn’t good! Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol after damaging exercise magnifies the loss of force associated with strenuous exercise.

The Research

Ten healthy young men males performed 300 maximal eccentric  (muscle lengthening) contractions of the quadriceps (thigh) muscles of one leg on a strength-measuring machine in the laboratory. This session was designed to induce muscle damage and soreness. They then drank either a drink containing 1 gram of ethanol per kg bodyweight ethanol (as vodka and orange juice) or a non-alcoholic beverage (orange juice). At least 2 weeks later they performed an equivalent bout of eccentric exercise on the other leg after which they consumed the other drink. Measurement of peak and average quadriceps strength of both exercising and non-exercising legs were made before and 36 and 60 hours after exercise.

The Results

Greatest decreases in exercising leg performance were seen 36 hours after the exercise with losses of around 30% of muscle strength occurring after drinking orange juice. However, average strength loss was significantly greater after the drinking the alcohol during recovery with the same performance measures decreasing by about 42%. Performance of the non-exercising leg did not change significantly under either treatment. The researchers concluded that consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol after damaging exercise magnifies the loss of force associated with strenuous eccentric exercise.

The So What?

This research reinforces previous research that has found alcohol after training or competing not only dehydrates you and slow the replenishment of carbohydrates into the muscles, it also impacts on subsequent muscle performance. So for athletes at major events who have to compete on consecutive days or a number of times in a day, stick with high GI foods and drinks and stay away from the alcohol until after all the competition is finished. Easier said than done I hear some say!

 Barnes, M, Mundel, T., Stannard, S. (2010). Postexercise alcohol ingestion exacerbates eccentricexerciseinduced losses in performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 108(5): 1009 – 1014.

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