Spartans who stand by the ethos of grit, determination, and perseverance take their nutrition seriously. Everything you put into your body either contributes toward your fitness goals, or deters from them.
And while Spartans aren't binge drinkers, or even regular drinkers, it's crucial to study up on the negative effects booze can have on training and performance, because even one beer can set you back.
Here's a 101 guide to alcohol and training with Hayden James, RDN, CSSD, CD, CDCES, and board-certified Sports Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Through her business, Satiate Nutrition, James provides athlete clients with expert guidance through tailored sports nutrition coaching. Here’s what you need to know about drinking booze and training at the same time. (Hint: it basically gets in the way of making serious gains.)
Why You Shouldn’t Have Even One Drink
“If you're drinking one drink immediately after a workout, you could see some inhibition of muscle glycogen storage and reduce muscle's ability to take up protein,” says James. Instead of imbibing, James recommends steering clear during high-training phases and sticking to electrolyte-rich beverages to replenish hydration, and opting for N/A options (our favorite is Athletic Brewing Company’s wide selection of non-alcoholic beer) during moments you want to kick back and relax.
Bottom line: alcohol, in addition to impacting performance and recovery, can mess with your sleep, impair your focus, and add unwanted calories which get in the way of achieving your prime body composition. In other words, just don’t go there if you want to be the best.
Here’s what you need to know about drinking booze — and more importantly, the benefits of steering clear — if you’re in a serious training regimen.
How Drinking Alcohol Can Impact Your Performance
1. It Destroys Your Sleep
“Alcohol has sedative effects so it makes one fall asleep quicker but disrupts REM sleep, which is very restorative,” says James. “This inhibition may cause daytime drowsiness. It can also suppress breathing, which could contribute to sleep apnea, which would overall inhibit recovery as sleep is very helpful in training adaptations.”
Being adequately fueled and hydrated is key to getting the best sleep possible — and sleep is essential to maximum recovery. So, avoid the booze if you want to stay on top of your game.
2. It’s Invaluable Caloric Intake
There's really no health benefits to drinking alcohol, period. According to James, the health benefits of wine actually don't even check out based on research. And from a caloric perspective, alcoholic drinks have 7 kcal/gram, which is more than carbs and protein, and a little less than fat (carbs and protein = 4 kcal/g; fat = 9 kcal/g).
“But it's not always just the alcohol that's providing calories,” James says. “It's the drink mixers as well — soda, tonic, sweet and sour, etc. — that pack a lot of sugar and calories.”
Depending on how closely you’re monitoring your caloric intake and wanting to maximize the value of every bit of fuel you put in your body, consider how much those calories really matter to you and your fitness and training goals. Is it worth the treat, or are you better off choosing other sources of calories that are going to benefit you more? Our suggestion: opt for one of Athletic Brewing’s Sparkling Waters: flavorful, crips, refreshing, and they offer a summery twist on a traditional mocktail, at zero calories.
3. If You Do Drink Alcohol, Timing is Everything
When monitoring their alcohol intake, athletes should consider when, why and how much they’re consuming. There are worse times than others to have an alcoholic beer, especially right after a workout when your body jumps into recovery mode and needs all the help it can get to prepare for your next full-send.
“I recommend skipping alcohol on hard training days,” says James. “When imbibing, stick with one drink [and keep it to the odd rarity].” Even better, opt for the N/A Athletic Lite from Athletic Brewing that still gives you the flavor of beer, but at just 25 calories. That way, you won’t severely offset all of the hard work, blood, sweat, and yes, perhaps even tears that go into conquering a Spartan Race. Because it’s just not worth it.
4. Quantity of Consumption Matters for the Long Haul
In addition to how much and when you’re drinking, James tells clients that eating enough to support recovery and training adaptations, and having balanced nutrition and sleep habits all matter when it comes to assessing alcohol intake.
“Whether you're an athlete or not, drinking more than seven drinks per week on average for males and females is associated with health detriments,” says James. “If you regularly exceed this, consider what you enjoy about the alcohol and what it's doing for you so you can outline a way to reduce your intake and find substitutes. Binge drinking (according to the CDC is five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a two-hour period) and is associated with long-term health detriments. It's also really hard on the liver! Consider how you're drinking alcohol, [if you do indulge]. Are you a sugary mixed drink fan? You might be overdoing it on the sugar if you're imbibing mostly on mixers.”