As told to the Spartan Editors by Nicole Mericle, 2019 Spartan World Champion and 2019 Trifecta World Champion
As a young athlete, I competed in Division 1 Cross Country and Track & Field at Rice University and qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 3,000m steeplechase. My approach to nutrition was always to recognize food as fuel. But coming from a running background, I was focused on weight and being lighter. It wasn’t really until I became a climber that I had a shift. I never had a bad relationship with food, but with climbing, and OCR, there’s more emphasis on having quality nutrition for the intention of gaining muscle mass to help with performance.
After college, I was climbing more and expending more energy. I also changed my diet considerably because I realized I had a lot of food allergies. I was used to eating whatever I wanted to for 22 years of life, then had to cut out dairy, wheat, and soy. That was a struggle, but I found that sticking to dietary restrictions and eating more and at better times helped me gain muscle mass and be a more well-rounded athlete. It inherently takes a lot more planning and is easier to just make food at home, which forced me to become a better cook.
My Journey with Booze
I underwent a similar transition with alcohol. I never drank in high school, but in college, I developed what I think was a very typical female-runner relationship with alcohol, mostly in the party atmosphere.
As a competitive runner, partying was very limited to the postseason for me. After college, I came to like flavorful craft beer and delicious cocktails, but soon learned that I was allergic to wheat and gluten-free options were extremely limited, so I became more of a social drinker with some beer, wine, or a cocktail at dinner. Now, I generally opt for Athletic Brewing Company’s golden ale, Upside Dawn, which is refreshing, non-alcoholic, and crafted to remove gluten. (A win-win, for me.)
Why I Became “Sober Curious”
Once I made the full-time transition into OCR and started competing again, I revisited how often I was drinking and what it was doing for me. I found that seeking a higher performance definitely drives me to drink less and opt for N/A beverages more.
While rehabbing my current ACL knee injury, which I tore in a race in May while dismounting from an obstacle with some over-rotation upon landing, I found myself drinking a little more often, at first, to some detriment to my recovery.
I’m working really hard to build back my strength to be able to jump and land. I might not feel a lot of impact at the time I have any drinks, but any time I have two, sometimes even just one, I feel my lack of sleep the next day or when I wake up in the middle of the night. I normally pride myself on being such a good sleeper, so for something to throw it off even a little bit is pretty paramount.
For a while it became easy to get into a routine of having a glass of wine, beer, or cider every night, especially when I first got injured and the frequency increased. After a couple weeks of that, I realized it was still impacting me and not good for my recovery and I began to consider cutting back on it.
Now, I typically save alcoholic drinks for a celebration or the day before a rest day (my normal workout volume consists of morning and afternoon sessions). It’s not worth it to me to drink at all during the week while I’m training. But after a big race, celebrating with friends, I will still have a drink and feel fine enjoying that.
Cravings? I Opt for N/A Beer or Sparkling Water
I still get that beer craving after a big workout or race. I’ve become a big fan of craft beer and cider and have a bigger sweet tooth when training at a high level. I’m typically dehydrated and crave fizzy, sweeter, or bitter-tasting beverages, which is why it’s great to have Athletic Brewing’s delicious sparkling water, which my roommates steal every time I order some.
Non-alcoholic beer definitely satisfies that post-race craving for me and Athletic Brewing just came out with a light beer that is both refreshing and doesn’t set my recovery back, as an alcoholic beer would. After trying these N/A options, I realized my craving is not from wanting alcohol, but wanting the sweet flavor and fizziness of a beer.
Bottom line: Athletic Brewing Company introduced me to some great alternatives without the negative downsides of booze. If you’re thinking of dialing back or resetting your drinking habits, check out their beverages — you won’t regret it.