Does alcohol help or hinder your fitness and how do you fast-track hangover recovery? The truth about alcohol and fitness. 


Alcohol and fitness: beer

Research reveals the power of the recovery pint

Bitter: 4% abv (alcohol by volume) – calories per pint 180-200 

Lager: 4.7-5% abv – calories 210-240

PROS: Two recent studies have elevated the status of the post-run pint to new levels. Professor Manuel Garzon from Granada University in Spain found that a group of runners who drank beer scored ‘slightly better’ rehydration scores than those who only had water after a series of hot weather trials. A similar study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise has led researchers to suggest that carbon dioxide in beer has the effect of quenching thirst quicker – while the carbs in the beer replace the loss of calories from exercise.

CONS: In the build-up to a major endurance event you may want to cut back or cut out your beer intake. As a diuretic the alcohol in beer – especially strong lagers – has been shown to drastically deplete electrolyte (potassium and sodium) levels. Stick to fruit drinks in the build up to a run – orange juice has four times the potassium of beer.

Red Wine

Alcohol and fitness: red wine

Using The Grape To Break The Tape 

11-14% abv – calories per 175ml glass 120

PROS: Live longer, race longer and enjoy a tipple or two along the way. All the ‘good’ news that comes out about wine is usually linked to the properties associated with the ingredient resveratrol – a polyphenol prominent said to help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevents blood clots. Recently a FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) study also suggests that resveratrol may protect against insulin resistance and loss of bone mineral density.

CONS: Knocking back too much of any alcohol is likely to leave one a little ‘fragile’ the next day, but wine and in particular can produce a killer hangover that may impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The key cause are the congeners – nausea-creating remnants from the fermenting process, identified by studies including those from the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. Red Wine contains more than any other drink.


Alcohol and fitness: gin

Enter Into The Spirits 

Gin: 6.5% abv – calories per 125ml 70-80

Vodka: 6.5% abv – calories per 125ml 70-80 with mixers

PROS: Gin and vodka appear here as a mixed double because, on the plus side, both these clear spirits come without the head-fugging congeners that darker spirits – like bourbon and dark rum – contain. Whilst vodka is said to have antiseptic properties and gin – with its juniper derivatives – may be anti-inflammatory, don’t expect either to come with a physio or sports nutritionist’s recommendation.

CONS: The American College of Sports Medicine has taken a long, hard look at the side-effects of hard liquor upon the athlete – and they’ve a few words of warning. Short spirits in long glasses with mixers may not have quite the impact as a full pint of beer – but spirits are alcohol and little else. The Institute of Food Research at least point to the fact that bitter and wine do contain some nutrient value in the form of carbohydrates as well as small amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals with antioxidant. Spirits don’t.


Alcohol and fitness: cider

In Cider Information 

4.5-6% abv – calories per pint 200-230

PROS: According to one Journal of Nutrition study from the Norwich-based Institute of Food Research, the apple-cum-alco drop delivers a decent dose of antioxidants. These are said to ‘mop up’ harmful substances that can cause cell damage and occur more often after exercise. “Cider has the same levels of antioxidants as red wine,” said Dr Caroline Walker, a scientist at Brewing Research International, on release of the study.

CONS: There’s a clue in the fact that those sweet, more-ish fruity ciders are, well, just that – high in sugars and calories and of course alcohol. But, as a tenuous tip for athletes, you would be wise to dabble in a little Apple Cider Vinegar at the table. A 2010 report – in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism – reveal that its amino acid and potassium components make it an excellent post-workout, fatigue and inflammation-reducing, lactic acid flush.


Alcohol and fitness: champagne

Fix It With Fizz 

12% abv – calories per 125ml glass 90

PROS: Bubbly can come in at around 10-20 calories per glass fewer than red or sweet wines – and research from Reading University confirms that those same polyphenols found in red wine that may help reduce blood pressure can also be found in champagne.

CONS: If you weren’t getting enough stick for potential bone damage caused by pounding the streets then glugging down champagne could only add to the pressure you’re putting on your skeleton. Carbonated beverages such as Champagne have been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis by a Harvard University study examining the association between phosphates in he drink and calcium loss.

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