Friends don’t let friends drink and run ( … do they?)

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.


The wine I brought back from California last summer is still unopened thanks to marathon training. Necessary? I'm not sure ...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.


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15 responses to “Friends don’t let friends drink and run ( … do they?)

  1. Great post! My body does not metabolize alcohol very well AT ALL. I’ve noticed that when I drink and run the next morning I get very dehydrated. So, I don’t drink before races, training days, etc.

  2. In general i find that when training i drink much less often. I just feel more clear minded and ready for a morning run if i have not had alcohol the previous night. Water is for sure my beverage of choice prior to racing and on the night before any big training runs.

    As a side note….i had a party with my belly dance buddies one night prior to a race. I drank plenty of wine and did god only knows what kinds of shots. I got up early for the race and took 2nd place in my age/gender. Promptly went home and went back to bed-uggg felt like crap but i had a medal, lol.

  3. Lindsey

    I too drink less frequently when training. The few times I did indulge this summer during my marathon training, Saturday mornings were hell – dehydrated doesn’t even begin to describe how horrible I felt!

    In conjuction with alcohol intake pre-running what are the effects of alcohol during a race?! I know the Shamrock Marathon and 1/2 Marathon in VA Beach have “beer stops” and when I ran last year people actually stopped to chug a beer. Call me crazy but I’m not so sure I could do that! Also, the Richmond Marathon has a huge party stop through a neighborhood around miles 21-23 where runners can be seen stopping to drink a beer or take a shot. Perhaps to numb the pain?! Anyone ever drink and run?

    • Oh, wow. Drinking WHILE running is something totally different! I could never. Ever. Ever. I had a friend who used to fill a Camelbak with beer before the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta. In July. I get nauseous just thinking about it.

  4. One of my greatest challenges when I was a college student training for a marathon was planning long runs around parties. I knew a 20-mile run puts my body through rough times, and the last thing I should do is poison it!

    At the same time, it seems every time I drink, I have a *great* run the day after. I won my first 5k after a night of many, many sangrias and I did a long run once when I didn’t sleep well after a bad night, and I rocked it. Its interesting to think about! But, I too stay away from alcohol the weeks leading up to a big race… just in case!

  5. Having never had a drink before…29 years sober (ha ha)…I can’t really comment on the effects. But I can say that anything that has a negative effect on the body or takes away from the body focusing on repairing other parts of your body after a long run is bad for it. But, any other time, drink up!

  6. KateKirk

    I can’t imagine serious drinking the night before a long run or race. Even if you attempt to balance it out with water, alcohol impairs your body all over, from dehydration to poor sleep to other effects like Amy cites. For runs under 10 miles, I wouldn’t have more than a glass or 2 of wine and LOTS of water, over 10 miles, none. But I’m also not the world’s most serious runner — probably a more serious drinker 🙂

    I teetotaled for 10 days before MCM, so the martinis the night of were particularly sweet reward.

  7. trialsoftraining

    Ha, um, my take on this has changed pretty dramatically in the past year or so. First half marathon – I was a senior in college, therefore, determined not to let the running Completely take over (there’s fun to be had!). But, I did “dry up” for about ~10 days before the race. Same with the next two half-ms.

    Then, I realized that when I took a more “relaxed” approach to races, I did much better. When I wasn’t SO over-concerned with eating/drinking (which also coincided with me becoming much more comfortable/less intimated by the 13.1 mile distance) – I did MUCH better and really enjoyed the running and racing a lot more.

    This summer – the night before the Annapolis 10-miler I actually Went Out. I was not concerned about the race – as it was just supposed to be fun and I thought I was gonna die anyway. haha. So, I figured, why not? Had a few beers, stayed out for a few hours, drank Lots of water before bed…..I was FINE. and had So much fun at that race.

    Anyway! wow, this is getting long. Basically – I definitely cut it back, but don’t restrict myself from a beer or glass of wine pre-race if I want it. it’s not a staple in the routine, by any means. But, if I’m out, and feel like it, I have a “why not” attitude ( and a glass of water by my bed! 😉 ) .

  8. Nothing cures a hangover like a good, well-hydrated run. 😉 Yeah, I just might stroke out one day. . . . I cut back before races, but I do have one glass of wine or one beer the night before to chillax a bit.

  9. JT

    I have run a half marathon hung over. (Enough said.) I wasn’t sure how much it hurt my performance, but the morning of I was certainly less nervous than I usually am. I agree with the article because of the dehydrating effects of alcohol probably best to stay away. But does beer not count as carbo-loading anymore?

  10. If you are interested in exploring the effect of drinking and running, I suggest looking up your local hashing group. No, it has nothing to do with drugs. Just a “Drinking Club with a running problem”. If you want more info, google it. There are clubs all over the world.

  11. David

    I generally avoid all alcohol two days before a race but I do have friends who’ll have a beer or two the night before. I doubt that one drink would have much of an effect, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Not to mention that going without for a week or so before makes celebrating with a brew after the race is that much more fun.

  12. i already don’t drink much as it is. i mean maybe once a month, MAYBE. i did have a beer 2 nights before NYC — to help me fall asleep of course. i don’t think the 1 drink hurt me much, but i’m no scientist.

    i, uh, did drink in college, but when i decided to run a marathon (to be held in feb of my senior year) i cut back a lot on my former ‘college drinking’ habits.

  13. Amy,

    This is a great post and I’ve also enjoyed reading others’ comments.

    For me, I try to cut back because I agree that it’s psychological. However, I normally drink beer all the way up to the race and even drank beer during this year’s MCM at Crystal City. Here’s proof I did:

  14. carpeviam

    Interesting. I’m like you. I dry up about a month before a marathon. Not because I think it will really help/hurt me otherwise, but for my mental state it works wonders!

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