Can You Drink Alcohol When Training for a Marathon?

woman drinking beer
Poncho/Getty

Training for a marathon requires months of commitment and changes to your lifestyle. You may need to change your diet and sleep habits during training. You might also need to adjust when and how much alcohol you consume.

Effects of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol has substantial effects on the body. These have both short and long-term consequences. There are some effects that are especially important if you are a runner.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic. This means that the more you drink the more you release water from the body through urination. In the days leading up to your race or when preparing for a long run, hydration is key for optimal performance. Drinking alcohol will counteract these efforts.

Poor Sleep

It is widely known that alcohol impairs sleep quality. While you might fall asleep faster with alcohol, you may not stay asleep as long and you won't get into a deep sleep. Training and racing is going to be much more difficult when you are tired.

Impaired Judgment and Coordination

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol puts you at higher risk for accidental injury. A simple trip and fall can cause injuries that can derail training for weeks or even months.

Poor Physical Recovery

Ingesting alcohol reduces glycogen replenishment in the body and reduces the body's ability to repair muscles after physical exertion. In short, by drinking you may short change yourself out of the benefits you (should) gain during exercise.

Reduced Energy

In addition to the fatigue you experience from lack of sleep, your body produces less ATP when you drink. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is required for sustained endurance activities, like running. When there is less ATP available your ability to run long distances is compromised.

Weight Gain

A lean physique can help you to improve your pace and performance when running. The body can perform more efficiently when it carries less weight. Consistent alcohol consumption (or overconsumption) can cause weight gain. Alcohol provides seven calories per gram, unlike carbohydrate and protein that each provide four calories per gram—and those calories can add up quickly. Additionally, studies have shown that you are less likely to make nutritious food choices when drinking.

Impaired body temperature regulation

Researchers have found that the body does not regulate body temperature as well when you are under the influence of alcohol. If you are running in extreme heat or extreme cold and drinking alcohol, you may experience problems keeping your body temperature stable.

Alcohol can impact the body's ability to maintain optimal hydration levels, regulate body temperature, repair muscle damage and recover properly. Drinking can also contribute to weight gain which is usually not preferred by runners.

Drinking Alcohol After a Run

At certain running events you may find alcoholic drinks served at the finish line. Some runners like to celebrate a hard run or race with a glass of wine or beer. So is it smart to drink beer, wine, or other alcoholic drink after a long run or race?

Because alcohol is a diuretic, it should be limited immediately after exercise when rehydration is important for recovery. It's best to wait for a couple of hours or more after a race before you indulge in more than a few sips. By that time you can be assured that you have replenished lost body water and electrolytes.

Also, be aware that alcoholic beverages, and especially red wine, can be triggers for heartburn and stomach upset. Beer will usually be a little better tolerated than wine or distilled spirits since it provides more fluid per volume of alcohol.

Lastly, be careful not to overdo it. According to one study, if you are going to consume any alcohol after exercise a dose of approximately 0.5 g/kg body weight is unlikely to impact most aspects of recovery.

A smaller dose may also keep you from getting intoxicated. If you abstain from drinking alcohol during your training, you may find that your tolerance to be lower than it was when you started training. If you're taking a drink on the finish line, the dehydration can make you feel the effects of alcohol more quickly.

Be sure to take in some food at the same time so you aren't drinking on an empty stomach.

Drinking after a run can inhibit your body's ability to recover effectively. Researchers recommend limiting your intake if you choose to drink at all in the hours after a race or workout.

Running With a Hangover

It's unwise to run with a hangover. The day after excessive drinking, your body is dehydrated. If you have a bad hangover at the beginning of your run, you're already starting your run in a hydration deficit, which is never a good thing.

While you might be able to get through a short run with a hangover, it still won't feel great. But it may be dangerous to try to push through a long training run with a hangover because you could end up severely dehydrated.

You're also probably going to feel uncoordinated and clumsy when you have a hangover, which increases your risk of falling while running.

If you find yourself feeling hungover and still want to go for a run, make sure you drink some water before heading out and bring a water bottle with you. Be sure to keep your run short and easy.

Alcohol's Effect on Long-Term Training

Because alcohol consumption, and particularly overconsumption, can affect individual training runs it can have a detrimental effect on your long-term training plan if you imbibe regularly. Regular drinking may impair your ability to complete key workouts, making it less likely that you'll reach your full potential for the marathon. Most runners know that consistency is the key to effective training and injury prevention.

However, many marathoners also gain substantial benefits from training with a running group and from the social interaction that goes with it. Studies have shown that involvement in sports even at elite levels is widely associated with alcohol consumption. As such many training groups meet for drinks after their runs.

While it is probably not necessary to skip these helpful social gatherings, it may be wise to consider alcohol consumption when making a commitment to training. In general, hard drinking and hard training don't mix well. But drinking in moderation and the social interaction that goes with it is beneficial for some.

A Word From Verywell

Alcohol can have a significant effect on your body. But you don't necessarily have to give up your beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages altogether while you're training. It's fine to have some wine or beer on nights when you're not doing your long run the next day. If you're going out and really want to have one alcoholic drink the night before a long run, make sure you're drinking plenty of water, too.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Barnes, M. J. (2014). Alcohol: Impact on Sports Performance and Recovery in Male Athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(7), 909–919. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0192-8

  • El-Sayed, M. S., Ali, N., & El-Sayed Ali, Z. (2005). Interaction Between Alcohol and Exercise. Sports Medicine, 35(3), 257–269. doi:10.2165/00007256-200535030-00005

  • Vella LD, Cameron-Smith D. Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients. 2010;2(8):781–789. doi:10.3390/nu2080781

  • American College of Sports Medicine. Position Stand: Exercise and Fluid ReplacementMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2007;39(2):377-390. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597. Current as of May 2018.