Mulled wine, champagne, pumpkin beer, spiced cider. Leading into Thanksgiving (and Oktoberfest if you’re of German heritage) there’s no shortage of festive drinks on the menu at this time of year. The fall-flavoured beverages are just about here and the celebrations often lead to having a cup of cheer or two. For runners (particularly morning ones) it’s wise to be aware of how alcohol impacts the exercise routine. Jennifer Sygo is a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist who works with athletes on Team Canada’s track and field team. We checked in with her to ask her how alcohol impacts runners, and what we can do about it over holiday weekends. A runner herself, she provided us with some valuable tips and facts.
“If you are going to run the next day, you want to alternate drinks with a glass of water,” suggests Sygo. Alcohol dehydrates, that’s a fact known by most. Starting a run in a dehydrated state will simply be miserable. The easy fix is to take in water and drink at least one full glass before going to bed and hydrate in the morning.
The findings aren’t always positive. The fact is that alcohol consumption hinders the recovery process after any athletic activity… sorry beer milers, don’t shoot the messenger. “Alcohol impairs recovery,” says Sygo. “That’s true even if you eat a well-balanced meal that contains a lot of protein.” Why? It interrupts the process of “muscle protein synthesis.” In plain English, that means it prevents muscles from building and repairing as they should. In short, you may want to think twice before saying cheers with an Oktoberfest brew after a cold long run.
Ever spend the day after a party just feeling zombie-like and groggy? Well, there’s a reason for that. Alcohol changes a person’s sleep cycle modifying the snoozing greatly– in a bad way. Dozing off after a cocktail-heavy night will leave a person sleeping deeply for the first half of the night before switching into a poor quality of sleep for the rest, says Sygo. Getting through the next day in a tired state can be tough. It can mean missing the run, cutting it short, taking down the pace significantly or just not getting in quality miles.
The fix? If this happens, assess your situation and do what you can– even if it’s a short or easy run. Don’t come down too hard on yourself either. “Get your run in and accept that it is what it is,” says Sygo.
Drinking alcohol can lead to being in a tired state and that can lead to poor decision making. Oftentimes, this is the point where a person will make poor nutrition choices and succumb to the yummy-tasting but high calorie greasy meal (hello squash mac and cheese!). These may taste good in the moment but won’t go very far in fueling your body to handle workouts and long runs.
Another day-after poor decision: skipping the run entirely. To avoid falling into that trap, Sygo suggests starting out small just to make sure it happens. “I do think there is great benefit, when you can, to get in your exercise,” says Sygo. Tell yourself you’re going to go for 10 minutes. Oftentimes, runners will extend that once they get out. If 10 minutes is all you’ve got, hey, better than nothing!
Wait, so should I run with a hangover?
There’s no set rule on whether or not a person should run after having a late night and beverages of your choice at the annual family Thanksgiving get together. And there’s no concrete number of drinks that determines whether or not a person’s run will be affected. “The biggest thing you have to do is listen to your body,” says Sygo. Stay to the routine as much as possible and run if you can to get the benefits that running brings. However, also take time to enjoy this time of year without being too hard on yourself.