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Alcohol and Performance

Jun 10, 2021

Today on coffee & questions I answered Shane & Bec's questions on alcohol and its place in the week when it comes to exercise and performance.

Can I have a drink after my race? 🍻

Is there a way to be sensible with alcohol intake? 🍸

What effects does alcohol have on exercise performance? 🚴🏻


I'm not here to say don't ever drink but from the perspective of a dietitian... Alcohol is a toxin. 

We don't store it anywhere - it gets processed in the liver and burnt off in preference to anything else as we try and get rid of it out of the body

It's used as a social lubricant and is a socially acceptable toxin

My advice will differ depending on who you are and what your overall goals are. Find a balance between drinking and exercise performance depending on who you are and what your goals are


Alcohol equals energy - calories or kilojoules

Alcohol = 29kJ/gram

It also depends on what calories you're drinking it with - e.g. soda water or full-fat coke

And what food choices you make when you drink 

A drink does not always equal 1 STANDARD drink 

1 standard drink of wine = 100ml

1 standard drink of liquor = 30ml nip

Check the label of your drink for how many STANDARD drinks it contains


Tick off the 4 R's of recovery before going to the pub

  1. Repair - protein

  2. Refuel - Carbohydrate

  3. Rehydrate - water is fine

  4. Revitalise - Vitamins, minerals, healthy fats 

Be mindful that alcohol doesn't displace the important recovery nutrients 


There are two main factors when I think about alcohol and exercise performance:

  1. Dehydration
  2. Muscle damage / adaptation


1. Does drinking beer/alcohol cause dehydration?

Dr Ben Desbrow – lots of research in beer and rehydration post-exercise

Primary findings: 0%, 1%, 2% alcohol beer – didn‘t cause greater fluid loss – diuretic effect weak

The solute mix of beer is actually good for fluid retention – the alcohol is the problem

But when you consume 4% full-strength beer. Poorer fluid retention – diuretic  effect

“ breaking the seal” – turn off the signal to retain fluid and pee it all out – quite dilute and clear urine colour – body pushing out water

Can be moderated by adding sodium/eating


2. Muscle protein synthesis 

Alcohol blocks muscle-protein synthesis – even when alcohol is given with protein

Be mindful that alcohol can inhibit your recovery processes - particularly if drinking multiple drinks 



  • Alcohol intake needs to be individualised depending on who you are and what your goals are
  • Drink strategically and avoid alcohol around big training sessions/races
  • Alcohol needs to be considered in your overall plan - are you at the ideal body composition you want to be? Or are you feeling tired and run down? Reconsider your alcohol intake
  • Try to avoid the all or none approach - with a switch off and then switch on. More moderate drinking across a year is a more beneficial/healthy approach then abstaining and then binge drinking and blowing out
  • 1 drink is probably OK in your overall plan, even if it’s alcohol content is 4% or higher – from a rehydration perspective. Particularly if followed up with food and non-alcoholic fluids e.g. water, milk, sports drink
  • It's when drinking gets beyond an occasional drink that it can be an issue
  • Ensure you tick off the 4 R's of recovery FIRST before drinking alcohol
  • If you're missing the 4 R's of recovery, drinking and not making good food choices, you're more likely to displace the important recovery components. Or if you're having a beer and falling asleep so you're not doing recovery at all is definitely NOT IDEAL!


If you're a Triathlete looking to improve your nutrition, join the waitlist now for our new Triathlon Nutrition Academy. COMING SOON!

If you want help putting into practice any of the strategies above, or are looking for a Sports Dietitian to help you with training and racing nutrition, learn how you can work with me HERE


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