Whether you enjoy casual exercise, are in the gym every day, or compete in regular matches or events, it’s good to understand the effects alcohol can have on sports performance and fitness.
Effects of alcohol on sport performance
Alcohol is detrimental to sports performance because of both how it affects the body physically during exercise and its adverse effects on the brain's functions - including judgment - that will impair sports performance.
Alcohol is also a diuretic and drinking can lead to dehydration because the alcohol reduces the amount of urine our kidneys absorb.1 Exercise makes us sweat as our body temperature rises. So, combined, sweating and the diuretic effect of alcohol make dehydration much more likely.2,3 We need to be hydrated when we exercise to maintain normal flow of blood through our bodies, which is essential for oxygen and nutrients to reach our muscles and all the body's organs.
Alcohol interferes with the body's metabolism. Alcohol consumption causes an increase in insulin secretion, which leads to low blood sugar (otherwise known as hypoglycaemia). Exercise requires normal levels of sugar in the blood to give us energy. So, put simply, after alcohol, blood sugar levels will fall, and our sports performance won't be as good as usual.4
Alcohol compromises our motor skills, balance, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time, which negatively affect our performance and increases the risk of injury.5
It is important that we drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, to replace water lost through physical activity and, if we drink any alcohol after exercise, drinking additional water is essential to prevent dehydration.