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The Effects of Alcohol on Running

author image Kathryn Vera
Kathryn Vera holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, as well as licensure as a Registered Dietitian. Currently, she works as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation, where she provides care to patients living with chronic heart disease.
The Effects of Alcohol on Running
Alcohol can increase the rate of dehydration in runners. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When enjoyed in moderation, alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and may even stave off dementia. Unfortunately, some people overuse this substance -- and the results can be quite serious, especially when combined with physical activity. Runners who consume alcohol before physical activity can be at risk for dehydration, depleted electrolytes, impaired temperature regulation and decreased balance and coordination. The greater the alcohol intake, the more significant these conditions will likely be.

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How Much is Too Much?

Understanding how alcohol affects the body is crucial for those who want to avoid adverse consequences during a run. According to the Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol begins to enter the blood stream within minutes of consumption -- and can raise blood alcohol content levels, or BAC, in as few as 10 minutes. Even after alcohol has been digested and flushed from the body, runners may still notice the after effects of this intoxicant. The American College of Sports Medicine states that runners who consumed alcohol within 24 hours of a run, and who had a BAC of at least 0.04 percent, will be most likely to experience negative effects.

Losing Water

The American College of Sports Medicine classifies alcohol as a diuretic -- or a substance which promotes the production of urine. It should come as no surprise that even moderate intake can lead to significant dehydration in runners. To avoid dehydration on a run, those who have consumed alcohol in the past 24 hours should be sure to drink plenty of water and other fluids. ACSM encourages runners to consume at least 8 ounces of fluid for each pound lost during physical activity to avoid possible dehydration. Drinking 8 ounces of water of water before and after exercise can also help slow fluid loss.

Depleted Electrolytes

In addition to the increase of fluid loss, diuretics have also been linked to the depletion of certain electrolytes like potassium and sodium. While electrolytes play a number of important roles in the body, Medical News Today reports that they are crucial for maintaining the function of nerves and muscles. UC San Diego Intercollegiate Athletics says runners who have consumed alcohol in the last 24 hours should add bananas or orange juice to their diet to replace lost potassium. Similarly, Gatorade and other sports drinks can be effective at restoring low sodium balances associated with running and alcohol use.

Impaired Temperature Regulation

During running -- and any other form of aerobic exercise -- the body regulates temperature to prevent hyperthermia (overheating) and hypothermia (low core temperature). The body may experience difficulty in maintaining heat in cold temperatures and releasing heat in hot temperatures when blood alcohol levels are about 0.04 percent, says the American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM also encourages exercisers to dress appropriately when alcohol has been consumed in the past 24 hours. Wearing layers, protecting extremities, limiting exposed skin and drinking at least eight ounces of fluid before and after every 30 minutes of exercise can all be effective ways to prevent weather-related maladies during a run.

Decreased Balance and Coordination

UC San Diego Intercollegiate Athletics states that even limited alcohol intake can negatively affect balance and coordination in runners. In fact, after a night of alcohol use, runners may experience difficulty navigating trails or road obstacles. Those who consume excessive amounts of intoxicants -- or abuse alcohol on a frequent basis -- are most likely to notice these symptoms. Runners who experience decreased balance and coordination after drinking alcohol should slow down to avoid potential injury or accident.

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