Should athletes abstain from drinking? Alcohol not water.

We were recently asked if drinking alcohol would have an effect on athletic performance and recovery. I know it sounds like this one would be obvious and part of it is. It’s reasonable to assume there is a statistically significant improbability of doing your best while drunk. You might do well by accident, but the odds are very, very stacked against that happening. But how about a beer after a WOD or workout, or a glass of wine with dinner? It looks like light drinkers perform as well as tea-totallers as long as enough time has gone by to get blood alcohol levels down (Barnes et al. 2011). Heavy drinkers should not expect to perform well while drunk or with a hangover.

Regional Athlete Kelly Poorter feeling not as well as he might have.

What about the effect of drinking on recovery? Will having a beer after a workout slow or interfere with recovery? It does not look like anyone has done a recent study of the effects of a little alcohol on recovery. However study of the effects of heavy intake (the equivalent of 5-6 drinks) has been made. (Barnes et al. 2012). You have to wonder though, what kind of people volunteer for that sort of study. Bets are on young men, not Masters athletes, but they are probably closer to us than rats, physiologically speaking. Maybe. The Barnes study provides evidence that a night of binge drinking will hurt performance for several days afterwards. If you are getting ready for the CrossFit Games 2012 or any athletic event that matters to you don’t get shit-faced drunk. Its not good for you anyway you look at it.

But it’s probably just fine to relax with a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day. At this stage of the game there are still a lot of unanswered question and no definitive answer for CrossFit competitors or elite athletes for whom everything matters. We know Masters Athlete Ken Cutrer (aka “The Godfather”) claims to drink large amounts of rum and olive oil, he may just be saying this to throw off competitors as he heads out for the 2012 CrossFit Games. Search for “Olive Oil” “Rum” and “Performance” and you will not find anything serious. Just an article about Cutrer. On the other hand, maybe he’s on to something.

Vella, Luke D. (2010-07-27) Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781-789. DOI: 10.3390/nu2080781

Barnes MJ, Mundel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption on recovery from a simulated rugby match. Journal of sports sciences, 30 (3), 295-304 PMID: 22168345

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2011). A low dose of alcohol does not impact skeletal muscle performance after exercise-induced muscle damage. European journal of applied physiology, 111 (4), 725-9 PMID: 20878178

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