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Alcohol & Sport

While alcohol use to celebrate sport has long been an Australian tradition, there is increasing evidence to show what a poor partnership it really is. Good Sports identifies* that alcohol can affect your sport and exercise performance in two main ways:

1. Directly: due to the effect of alcohol in your body while or after drinking

2. Indirectly: the effects of alcohol on your sleep, diet, level of dehydration, etc

Key Facts

Some essential information for all athletes, coaches and administrators.

If you have alcohol 24 hours before exercising you are more likely to develop muscle cramps

  • Alcohol affects the body’s ability to create energy therefore it slows down reaction times, increases body heat loss and reduces endurance
  • After exercising, the body needs to be rehydrated. It’s not helpful to drink only alcohol as it will continue to dehydrate the body further
  • If you sustain injury while exercising, and you have had alcohol the night before or drink any alcohol afterwards (while injured), you are likely to increase your recovery time significantly

How alcohol affects YOUR sporting performance

Speed: alcohol affects you even after you’ve finished drinking. Alcohol affects the central nervous system and slows down the information processing ability of the brain. This in turn slows down your reaction time, hand-eye-coordination, accuracy and balance. Even a small number of drinks can affect performance.

Energy and stamina: the blood sugar that your body needs for energy is produced by your liver when it releases glucose into the blood stream. Alcohol keeps the liver too busy to produce the required sugar levels to sustain an athlete’s energy and stamina to perform at their peak.

Cramps: while exercising, your muscles burn up glucose, producing lactic acid as a waste product. Too much lactic acid leads to muscle fatigue and cramps. Alcohol that remains in your system contributes to greater build-up of lactic acid, increasing the risk of cramping dramatically.

Dehydration: the ‘drys’ is a term often used to describe an extreme symptom of alcohol’s diuretic (increased urination) effect. This extra fluid loss added to what an athlete sweats out increases the risk of dehydration significantly.

Performance: when you combine the effects of lactic acid build up, dehydration and the body converting food to energy less efficiently, an athlete’s aerobic performance is greatly reduced.

*Alcohol and Sport information reproduced with thanks to the National Health Service (UK).

More Resources

Fact Sheet: Alcohol: A performance impairing drug on the DrugInfo website

Fact Sheet: Alcohol and Australian Sport by the AIS

Newsletter: Prevention of alcohol-related harm in sport on the DrugInfo website


Tags: National, Alcohol, Exercise, Performance