Alcohol and Athletics: Why does something that feels so good hurt so bad?

Updated: September 19, 2013


By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)

“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.” -Ben Franklin

Nothing is like that first formation run on Monday where you can guess how someone’s weekend went by the alcohol content of their sweat, easily judged by the brewery-like smell coming off their body. If you happen to be that individual, you undoubtedly have felt the after effects of a libation-laden weekend when what once were easy physical tasks seem much more difficult and painful come morning PT.

Have you ever wondered what is going on in your body and why you go from feeling like Captain Morgan the night before to a sea sick pirate with scurvy the next morning? If so, I have the answer. If not, at least humor me and continue reading anyway.


Hopefully we all know the importance of hydration. The problem is that ethanol is a diuretic. Research has demonstrated that 1 gram of alcohol causes about 10 milliters of fluid to be lost. To put this in perspective, if you drink a beverage that is 80 proof (40% alcohol)—vodka, as an example—for every ounce you drink you will lose about 3.5 ounces of fluid. As you can see that, will have you dehydrated quickly.


Glycogen is the carbohydrate store found in your muscle that fuels your prolonged, high intensity activity. Alcohol has been shown to decrease muscle glycogen storage by 50% up to 8 hours post-consumption and 16% at 24 hours. The less muscle glycogen stores essentially means less fuel in the gas tank. So when everyone else is chanting “one mile, no sweat…” you are essentially sitting on empty and running on fumes.


Aerobic performance has been shown to decrease after a night of heavy drinking.  Alcohol can also negatively impact the performance of heart causing it to pump harder and less efficiently. There is also evidence that drinking too much alcohol can make you more susceptible to injury. So a hangover inducing bender can you leave you running slower with a racing heart; and if that is not bad enough, you are more likely to end up on profile. Talk about a buzz kill.

Having your Beer and drinking it too

Ok, now I told you all the negative impacts, now let’s see how we might mitigate them.

1. Keep your drinking in moderation: A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounce shot of spirits or liquor (80 proof). According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderation is considered 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women (sorry ladies).

2. Stay hydrated. Try this strategy; for every ounce of beer you guzzle, drink that many ounces of water before moving on to your next beer. If drinking wine or liquor, consume 12 ounces of water for each respective serving.

3. Although alcohol has been shown to negatively impact aerobic performance, anaerobic performance is less impacted as studies have shown little to no effect. So if you are going to drink and train the next day, try to schedule something like sprint work with enough rest between sets to recover.

4. High carbohydrate consumption appears to overcome the lowering of glycogen storage. So if you are going to drink before a long ruck or run, be sure to eat a meal with plenty of carbohydrates to ensure your glycogen stores are topped off.

Final considerations

Realize for optimal performance and overall health, drinking heavily is not advised. Also consider that alcohol packs a caloric punch if you are concerned about your waistline. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, which is second only to fat at 9 calories per gram. Protein and carbohydrates are 4 respectively. A handy formula to figure out how many calories you are drinking is:

0.8 x the proof x the number of ounces you are drinking = calories

Now, if you find yourself in PT formation fresh off a RON Class VI “mission”; might I suggest taking a page from the Australian Army’s PRT. Points to whoever can give the proper preparatory commands for the “hip thruster with optional air smack” in the comments section:



One Comment

  1. Anna Dawson

    December 12, 2013 at 4:53 am

    I agree alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to rehydrate because it increases fluid loss through urine.Thanks for sharing the post 🙂

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