Nobody suggests that drinking to excess will improve your PB, but just how much does the occasional tipple affect your training?

We all know there’s nothing like a cool pint after a hot bike ride or run. And for most recreational sports people you’d wonder is this really such a bad thing? The problem most triathletes have, though, is reconciling sinking a couple of cold beers with the consequential effect on their training. What does the science really say? We take a closer look at four commonly asked questions about alcohol.

Is alcohol a good source of calories?

Alcohol is a highly concentrated energy source containing 7 kilocalories per gram (compared to 4 kcals/g for protein and carbohydrates and 9 kcal/g for fat). The calories in alcohol are utilised by the body mainly for heat production and are not converted into a useful energy source like glycogen. It’s also important to note that calories in alcohol are ‘empty’ calories – alcohol doesn’t contain any appreciable amounts of vitamins or minerals.

Answer: No

Triathlon Nutrition - AlcoholIs alcohol a good source of minerals and B vitamins?

Alcoholic drinks contain only negligible amounts of vitamins. For example you need to drink 11 cans of beer to provide the daily recommendation of B2 (riboflavin), which is better obtained from breads and cereals. Guinness, which is often said to be a great source of iron, is not high in iron at all. To reach the daily recommendations men would have to drink 35 pints and women even more! Alcohol can in fact displace vitamins and minerals from the body. First it causes intestinal cells to stop absorbing thiamin, folacin and B12. Liver cells lose their efficiency in activating vitamin D. And kidneys excrete an increased amount of magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc, robbing your body of stores of these essential minerals.

Answer: No

Will just a few drinks impair athletic performance?

The brain will not function as quickly nor the muscles as skillfully with alcohol on board. Many studies have shown that even a small amount of alcohol can impair psychomotor skills, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, arm steadiness, balance and alertness. So basically, the more you drink, the worse your performance will be.

Answer: Yes

Does alcohol dehydrate you?

Alcohol is a diuretic, a substance that causes greater loss of fluids (and minerals and electrolytes) than it contains. Alcohol decreases production of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), the brain hormone that regulates fluid balance. If you drink alcohol before or after exercise, be sure to also drink adequate amounts of a non-alcoholic beverage to make up for the forced fluid loss.

Answer: Yes

Guilt-free Guide To Drinking

Moderate consumption is the key to enjoying a guilt-free beer. Use these guidelines to keep you on the straight and narrow:

1 A pre-race beer or glass of wine the night before to help you relax is fine, but keep it to one: alcohol is a diuretic and you don’t want to be dehydrated on the start line.

2 Drinking beer after a run is a great way to unwind, but match it with plenty of water and healthy post-training snacks.

3 Drinking lots of beer during a race is a bad idea but a few sips on a fun run won’t hurt you. Just take care not to drink too much as even a small amount in this situation can cause dehydration and impair judgment.