Alcohol Effects on Recovery Study – A Review

A study has been brought to my attention that is interesting. It was conducted down in New Zealand and presented at a medical sciences conference in late 2007. (Effect of Alcohol on Recovery from Eccentric Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage – Barnes, Mundel, Stannard)

The gist of their study was to determine if alcohol consumption affected recovery from eccentric muscle contraction exercises (yes, running is this). They studied rugby-soccer type athletes however, due to the high quantities of running in either sport without a doubt there is a valid comparison to road warriers such as ourselves.

It was a nicely controlled study which also lends to its validity. Treatments were randomized. There was restriction of outside of study alcohol consumption before and during the testing process. The statistical significance of their findings was also quite clear and convincing. The delay in recovery to damaged muscles was clear even 60 hours post event (that’s day three).

And just what was their conclusion? The concluded that acute intake of alcohol in the three hours post-match (race in our case) significantly affected recovery of muscles.

These results are not terribly surprising. We have long known that alcohol is not conducive to training or recovery. Here is where the study however failed most of us. They required the subjects to consume six alcoholic drinks; one every 15 minutes in the course of an hour and a half. They stated that for the subjects in this test it was actually somewhat LESS THAN what would normally be consumed post-matches. But, they wanted to mimic a “binge” occurrence.

OK, this may be a bit radical thinking on my part, but how many of you after a big track workout or 20 mile run sit down and drink six shots of vodka or six beers or six glasses of wine in the hour and a half post workout?

This kind of study does a disservice to athletes and promotes sensationalism.In their conclusion they state: (the study shows)… moderate consumption of alcohol increases injury related strength loss… delays recovery… No duh!

Perhaps in New Zealand or perhaps more specifically for rugby and soccer players six drinks in 90 minutes constitutes “moderate” drinking. But, to generalize these results too far would clearly be misleading to most athletes.

There is ample data beyond this study to indicate that alcohol is not the beverage of choice for athletes. Alcohol is a poor replenishment drink. There is also ample data that indicates 1-2 drinks per day are beneficial for those who enjoy a drink. More than that is not recommended for anyone – not athletes, not the general public. Binge drinking is not OK and is not the norm for most athletes.

Timing for those modest drinkers is probably important, though because of the excesses of this study, this study cannot be used to determine that on a research basis. The message is probably that in the three hours post workout – alcohol is best left out. And we can only hope more real life responsible research is conducted in the future.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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5 Responses to Alcohol Effects on Recovery Study – A Review

  1. jim says:

    I hate this study…..when my muscles ache so much that I cant drink…thats when its time to stop

  2. kleph says:

    I think one of the key points the study wished to address – and one alluded to by many of the news reports that followed on it – was the tendency for many athletes to ‘binge’ after matches. I’ve seen this type behavior both here and in Australia.

    Certainly, for many organized sports like rugby, soccer and football this is pretty common. The ‘team’ nature of the enterprise encourages it in a way the ‘individual’ nature of running would not.

    Yes, it’s less common for runners to drink in such amounts after workouts but certainly there is some amount of excessive drinking after an event – particularly longer events such as marathons. It’s a celebration and, for many, a long awaited reward for the many many weeks of work. I know I waded through quite a few beers after the Tuscon Marathon in December.

    And that’s what caught my eye about this study. In our case we immediately decided to run another marathon in a rather shortened training window. Did that day of celebration have an effect on my ability to rebound and limit my ability to “cash in” on my conditioning? After reading this, I have to say it may have been more of a factor than I originally considered.

    While this study may have findings that apply to runners and other endurance athletes, it’s certainly not designed to address the particular nature of drinking as it applies to our sport. And I think holding it accountable in such a manner is asking too much of it.

    But there is a fertile ground for study on the affect of even moderate amount of drinking on performance over time and, if nothing else, this study certainly piques my curiosity on that score.

  3. Dean Hebert says:

    Good observations. I completely agree that far more research has to be done. And that research has to reflect “real life” to be relevant to most (not all) athletes. I will say almost categorically however that the few beers after Tucson had zero effect on these past weeks. The study was very clear that the drinking was done in the immediate90 minutes post-exercise. It did not address later in the day drinking – though again anything in excess will have an acute effect. Even the study revealed only less than 3 days of prolonged recovery… not weeks or months from an acute bout with alcohol.

  4. Denise says:

    More than anything I am amused. I don’t think a study has much bite or credibility if the situation studied was not one that actually happens.
    Not only that – I can’t remember the last time I consumed 6 drinks within an hour – That is mega binge drinking… So actually this study makes me feel quite good – because I was feeling bad about my alcohol consumption 1 drink a day (sometimes less) – Now I see, I can carry on without the guilt 🙂

  5. Dean Hebert says:

    I feel pretty much thte same way …at least until they dial this down to show that just that ONE beer delays recovery too… which has to be said that it is possible… but just unsupported at this time by research.

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