Booze Rules: Endurance Athlete’s Guide To Drinking Alcohol

Will it make me fat? When is the best time to have a drink? Are post-race beers OK? What about the night before my race?

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Q: What are your guidelines for drinking alcohol?

A: Research shows that in moderation, alcohol, particularly red wine, does carry some health benefits (in wine, it’s heart-healthy antioxidants). Formal recommendations for consumption are one drink per day for women and two for men, but it’s important to remember that everyone metabolizes and tolerates alcohol differently. Click on the tabs on the left for some other common alcohol-related queries I hear from triathletes.

RELATED: Do Alcohol And Training Mix?

Q: Will it make me fat?

A: Alcohol is relatively high in calories (7 calories per gram in pure alcohol). For the athlete looking to trim body fat, cutting out alcohol is perhaps the easiest way to achieve desired results on the scale. However, for the triathlete who trains well and eats well most of the time, the occasional glass won’t detrimentally affect body weight.

RELATED – Racing Weight: Cut Your Calories By Watching What You Drink

Q: When is the best time to have a drink?

A: Enjoying your favorite cocktail at the end of the day can be a way to relax and help strike some life/training balance. In fact, some of the athletes at the very top of the sport do exactly that. For multiple Ironman 70.3 winner Kelly Williamson, drinking a good IPA brew while cooking dinner signifies that the day is done. “It’s something I truly enjoy,” she says. “I know that practically speaking, a regular beer will not negatively affect my training or racing. On the contrary, I think it helps me because I would probably be grumpy and resentful of my profession if I told myself that I couldn’t have it!”

For 2010 Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae and her ITU World Long Course champion partner Tim O’Donnell, a bottle of good wine is a regular at the dinner table: “Tim and I enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner a few nights per week,” she says. “I don’t think it takes anything away from training (unless we go for bottle number two) and, in fact, I think it helps me unwind and relax after a long day.”

Photos: Challenge Roth’s Erdinger Party

Q: Are post-race beers OK?

A: There are definitely drinks and snacks better suited to promoting recovery. However, when you consider the primary goals of recovery are to replace fluids, restore glycogen and assist in repair, beer doesn’t stack up too badly. While alcohol can be dehydrating due to its diuretic effects, the truth is that a drink will not dehydrate you if it provides more fluids than the rate of diuresis. So for beer, particularly light beer, you are actually drinking more fluids than you will expel. The carbohydrate content of beer also helps to replace depleted glycogen. Beer’s main drawback is the lack of protein to promote tissue repair. Where one or two finish-line beers are just fine, over-indulgence will hinder recovery—by making you less likely to follow good recovery practices (stretching, eating well, getting a massage).

RELATED: Fuel Like A Pro

Q: What about the night before my race?

A: If enjoying a drink the night before your big race will help you relax and get to sleep, go for it. You’ll be in good company. For many pros, including 2012 Ironman Austria champion Linsey Corbin, a glass of wine is a regular on the pre-race plan. “It helps me to relax a little bit and sets me up for a fun day ahead,” she says. “I am so strict regarding training, eating healthy, strength work and recovery. I think it’s great to have things in moderation as treats or rewards.”

What is a standard drink?
0.6 oz of pure alcohol = 12 oz standard beer = 5 oz wine = 1.5oz shot of spirits

RELATED: What Do I Eat The Night Before A Race?

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