Alcohol and Cycling Performance

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol in moderation, excessive alcohol consumption may have side effects that could affect one’s cycling performance, while training or competing.
By Anahita Sriprasad on Dec 01, 2016 at 16:30:00

Grabbing a beer or a glass of wine after a long -tiring day at work is often a tempting thought, and a common habit for many people. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol in moderation, excessive alcohol consumption may have side effects that could affect one’s cycling performance, while training or competing.

When it comes to cycling, habitual alcohol consumption is linked to three main aspects - Hydration, Protein Synthesis, Sleep- among others.

HYDRATION LEVELS DECREASE

Alcohol consumption, especially in excessive amounts, can cause dehydration. This owing to the fact that it is a diuretic and one can lose liquids and necessary electrolytes. The key to avoid getting dehydrated while consuming alcohol is to drink a glass of water between every drink. Studies show that concentrated spirits, wine and full strength beer result in net fluid loss when consumed in large volumes, more than three standard drinks. However, it’s not all bad news! If you do enjoy an occasional drink, the good news is that low alcohol percentage or ‘light’ beers, or even spirits mixed in large glasses with low calorie mixers such as soda water and lime will not have this effect. So choose large glasses and reduced alcohol varieties of beer and wine whenever possible and you should be good to go.

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DECREASED PROTEIN- SYNTHESIS:

A major part of the recovery process is protein synthesis - where the cells in one’s body produce protein to help rebuild, and grow muscles after a workout. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption in large amounts decreases protein synthesis by 15-20%. This will slow down one’s recovery process and could affect performance in the long run.

DECREASED GLYCOGEN RESERVE

When alcohol is consumed, the liver enzymes work faster, treating the alcohol as a toxin. Since these enzymes are working on the alcohol they aren’t well-utilized for regular energy metabolism functions. Hence, the conversion of glucose to glycogen comes to a halt. Glycogen is a necessary source of muscle fuel when riding, and if the glycogen reserves in one’s body is low, it will affect performance. Hence, it is suggested that cyclists avoid consuming alcohol before a big event or a long ride.

SLEEP PATTERN

Alcohol has been known to affect sleeping. If you do not sleep well then you will not produce as much human growth hormone – a hormone that builds muscle. Alcohol also affects one’s sleeping pattern in general, making it harder to fall into deep sleep. REM sleep is required for long term memories and to wake up feeling completely rested. Disturbed sleep will leave one tired and affect performance on the saddle the following day.

BRAIN DRAIN

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the receptors being blocked in one’s brain and depressing one’s central nervous system. These receptors are key for reasoning, which means that one may be prone to making faulty decisions, and the communication decays between one’s brain and muscles. Affected reaction time, motor control, and balance, can prove to be dangerous on a ride.

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Studies have shown some health benefits of alcohol, like wine and whisky, when consumed in moderate levels. The key here is to avoid binge drinking or excessive alcohol consumption on a regular basis. It is strongly recommended that one completely avoid alcohol consumption the day before a big event - to ensure top performance while on the saddle.

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