As the festive season approaches and runners try to balance social commitments with running commitments, it’s important to look at the impact alcohol consumption has on running. You may have several questions about this: Will it damage my health? How much will alcohol impact my running performance? How much is safe to drink before running the next day? Can I ‘run off’ a hangover? Which drinks are the healthiest? Can I go straight from a training session to the pub? I’ll try and answer each of these questions so you can wake up on New Year’s Day with healthy legs and a healthy liver!
Will running after a night out damage my health?
Quite possibly. The resulting dehydration and electrolyte imbalance will mean you are more likely to suffer muscle strains and muscle soreness. More seriously, exercising within two days of a heavy drinking session can potentially cause unusual heart rhythms.
How much will last night’s alcohol impact my running performance?
A lot. You get your energy from your liver. If it’s too busy processing last night’s booze it won’t be able to give you the energy you need to perform well. Add in the impact alcohol has on co-ordination and decision making (you’re probably aware of this!) and you could find yourself tripping over kerbs or other runners or worse still, getting yourself run over!
How much alcohol is it sensible to drink before running the next day?
The straightforward answer is none. However, you’re not Mo Farah, and Christmas Day parkrun is not the Olympics! Put simply, the less you drink the better and further you’ll be able to run the next day. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with squash or water and this will reduce the dehydration effect.
Which alcoholic drinks are the most healthy?
Going through every alcoholic drink could take a while and would be a whole new blog post! To be brief, remember that alcohol is full of sugar and therefore empty calories which go nowhere except the belly – so it’s really a case of the least unhealthy rather than the most healthy. It’s worth searching the calorie count of your favourite drinks online as the lower the calorie level and the lower the alcohol content the better.
Can you ‘run off’ a hangover?
Yes and no. No – because alcohol is a diuretic which dehydrates you, as does anything which works up a sweat. Therefore a run will just pull more liquid and electrolytes from your body, which is not good. You may have noticed that your morning after sweat can sometimes smell of the alcohol you drank the night before. This is the toxins of the alcohol leaving your body. They can also leave via your breath and your urine. By far the most socially acceptable way for you to get rid of the toxins is to drink lots of (non-alcoholic) fluid so you pee them out.
However, you may well feel better following a morning-after run. Exercise gives you energy so it can help put that ‘I need to stay in bed for a week’ feeling at bay. The endorphin rush from exercise will lift your spirits and the knowledge that you are doing something healthy will remove the hangover guilt. So a morning after run can be a good thing if you take it easy and hydrate well before, during and after.
If you’re feeling motivated by that last paragraph and think ‘a Saturday morning parkrun will sort me out’ – NEVER, EVER, EVER drive unless you are absolutely sure you are safe to do so. And remember that even if you’re feeling alcohol-free following a morning-after jog, you may not necessarily be alcohol free. Always err on the side of caution.
Can I go straight from a training session to the pub?
You should wait a minimum of 30 minutes after exercising before drinking alcohol – so for your sake, and your friend’s sake – maybe take a shower first! Make sure you’ve replaced any fluid lost through exercise with non-alcoholic drinks before you go to the bar. Finally, remember that alcohol and rigorous exercise can both temporarily lower the immune system leaving you more susceptible to picking up viruses –so may be a ‘mad drinking sesh’ after a ‘mad training sesh’ isn’t such a good idea.
Hydration is key; on your night out and before, during and after your morning-after runs
Alcohol will lower your performance levels for the next couple of days. Reduce your expectations and take it easy
Although a hangover run may re-energise you, you could still be over the drink drive limit
Alternate alcoholic drinks with squash or water on your night out
Go for the low alcohol and/or low calorie drinking options
If you’ve had a heavy night, don’t follow it with a heavy training session – and vice versa