Opinion: Alcohol & Health

Alcohol and Sports Don’t Mix

Athletes of the legal drinking age have the added expectation and pressure to perform at the highest levels of competition. Many coaches regularly put policies and consequences in place to limit or discourage the use of alcohol by their team members, particularly during the in-season period. Regardless of the athlete, the need for alcohol education is critical to the success of the overall training process. For those who choose to drink, it is important to understand the effects of alcohol on performance.

According to the NCAA Sports Science Institute, alcohol consumption can negatively affect health and performance by increasing heart rate, oxygen consumption, blood pressure and blood lactate. Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to convert stored carbohydrate to energy, which can lead to cramping, hypoglycemia and a general reduction in stamina. Alcohol may impair the absorption of Vitamin B1 and other nutrients that play a key role in carbohydrate metabolism, essential for sustaining aerobic energy production. Additionally, key sports skills that require reaction time, balance, coordination and visual perception can be negatively affected for 48-72 hours post-consumption 1.

A reasonable approach to alcohol education should revolve around moderation and appropriate timing of consumption. During competition or heavy training periods, it would be best to refrain from drinking altogether. On a two or three week break, the circumstances are less critical but self-control should still be practiced in order to maintain muscle mass, strength, cognitive function, and overall well-being. When drinking, use moderation by limiting consumption, stay hydrated by drinking a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage consumed, and drink only on occasions when there is no training activity planned for the following day 2.

Additional consequences and tips can be found in this document on Alcohol and Athletic Performance. For athletes to succeed at the highest levels of competition, it is imperative for them to understand how alcohol could be affecting their performance and to always use moderation when choosing to consume beverage alcohol.

Jason Dierking is the Assistant Director of Sports Performance at the University of Louisville working primarily with men’s and women’s swimming & diving, men’s soccer, and cross country. Jason earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from Indiana University and has become an industry leader in the area of heart rate training and conditioning. Jason is also a competitive runner and triathlete, and has completed races such as the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Louisville.


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Footnotes Less
  • 1. SCAN Registered Dieticians Group, NCAA Sports Science Institute. Alcohol and Athletic Performance. www.ncaa.org.
  • 2. Fusco, Elizabeth, Kate Machado, and Shawn Dolan. “Alcohol and the Athlete: Moderation is Key”. www.teamusa.org.

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