Alcohol and sport – why they just don’t mix!

Cara Cunningham, Community Dietitian, HSE

The social side of many Irish sporting events involves the demon drink. But for the athletes themselves, drinking alcohol will not enhance their sporting performance at all; in fact alcohol in training, before, or you could argue for 24 hours after an event, will have a detrimental effect on present and future performances.

Although alcohol contains 7 kcals per gram (compared to 4 kcals for carbs or protein and 9 kcals for fat ), in athletes it is all about how these energy kcals are broken down and available to your body cells to use up during a sporting activity. Alcohol must go to the liver to be broken down; most of the energy released is then in a form of fat which cannot be used as a fuel source for your muscles.

Drinking alcohol, even if it is only one drink, will impair your reaction times; more than one drink may impair your judgement. It can also mask pain; this may mean that you don’t notice an injury (although this may appear to be an advantage ) but remember the more swelling in an injured area the longer it could take to recover and get back to playing at your best.

After a match or event your stomach is usually empty; there is a golden opportunity to rehydrate your body, replace lost muscle energy stores (known as glycogen ), and help repair any damage you have done. Although having a few beers may relax you, remember it will not rehydrate you, it will mostly increase your fat stores and have little impact on your glycogen stores. So in general, if you are serious about your sport you shouldn’t drink before, during, or for about 24 hours after an activity.

But if you must drink, here are a few tips that might help to minimise the effect:

Never make alcohol the first thing you drink after exercise – always have water, isotonic fluids, or milk first

If you have been injured in a game, especially if it is a soft tissue injury or bruising, it is best to avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours as it will hinder your recovery

Drink slowly, don’t get into rounds and remember you don’t have to keep up with the crowd

Watch out for home drinking where measures can be bigger (way bigger )

For more information on any of the issues discussed above or for more information on diet and nutrition, please contact Maria at The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster by telephone on (044 ) 9395518 or email community.dietitians@hse.ie.

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