It occurred to me last week that I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol for about a month, thanks to training for the Marine Corps Marathon and post-marathon stomach ick.
I’m not a big drinker or anything — just a glass of wine or two here and there — but in the weeks leading up to a big race, I usually dry up completely. It never occurred to me to question whether this is necessary until I read an interesting Running Times column on the topic recently.
In the column sports dietitian Jackie Dikos says the effects of alcohol and performance aren’t entirely clear. But she says there’s enough evidence that it harms performance to lay off before big races or after tough workouts:
“To start, alcohol can impair performance by having a diuretic effect, resulting in dehydration,” Dikos writes. “There’s no question that poor hydration can be a detriment to performance. In addition, alcohol consumption may result in faster fatigue during hard workouts and slower recovery. It displaces carbohydrate from your diet, thereby impairing muscle glycogen storage.”
She also warns that your body has to “filter and process the leftovers from hard workouts. If you’re already feeling sore and damaged, treat your body right by avoiding alcohol for the next 24-36 hours.”
I think for me, abstaining before big races is less about the reasons above and more about some weird psychological advantage I glean from it. A nice glass of wine does a lot of things for me, but one thing it doesn’t do is make me feel sharp and race-ready. Then, there’s the effect on my sensitive stomach; trial and error has shown me there’s definitely good reason to stick to water the night or two before a race. And if nothing else, it makes a good glass of wine at a post-race celebration seem even more special.
Do you modify your drinking habits leading up to a big race? Share your tactics by posting a comment.