From the March 2012 issue of Runner’s World
A (somewhat) scientific look at how a post-run pint (or two) impacts your favourite activity. Biggest surprise? It’s different for women
By Christie Aschwanden
It’s a common ritual among my running buddies. We run, then we drink. And we’re not alone. There’s the famous Hash House Harriers (hhh.asn.au; nzhhh.co.nz), with chapters around the world, which calls itself a drinking club with a running problem. Among runners, coffee is perhaps the only beverage more popular than beer.
My friends and I often joke that we’re carbo-loading when we split a six pack together, but once in a while I wake up groggy and wonder: Could my drinking habit be hurting my running?
Being a former scientist, I had my own theories about how drinking and running mix, and I couldn’t resist putting them to the test. The Colorado Mesa University had just opened the Monfort Family Human Performance Research Lab, a state-of-the-art exercise-science facility that seemed like the perfect venue to explore alcohol’s effects on running performance. My friend Gig Leadbetter, Ph.D., coaches the school’s cross country team and is an exercise scientist at the Monfort Lab. He’s also a home brewer and winemaker and, without any arm-twisting, agreed to put together a study for Runner’s World.
Part one of the experiment – the Beer Run – was a 45-minute, early evening run at an intensity that would require tapping into muscle-fuel stores, immediately followed by a serving of beer. Part two – the Exhaustion Run – would take place the next morning and provide a measure of the recovery. On this run, volunteers would run at 80 per cent of their max for as long as they could tolerate.
Researchers tested the volunteers twice, using two unnamed beers and without divulging their alcoholic content. In Round One some runners consumed regular alcoholic beer, while others had a non-alcoholic beer. (In Round Two, the options were reversed.)
RATING OF PERCEIVED EXERTION (RPE)
Quantifies how a runner is feeling
Hypothesis If alcohol harms glycogen replenishment, RPE should climb higher, sooner (and at a faster rate) on the Exhaustion Run following real beer.
Result RPE did not significantly differ between the two trials.
Takeaway Moderate beer consumption following a run did not make runners feel worse on their next morning’s run.
RESPIRATORY EXCHANGE RATIO (RER)
RER tells us what percentage of carbs and fat is being used as fuel.
Hypothesis If alcohol harms glycogen replenishment, runners should use up their carbs more quickly and therefore use more fat at the end of the Exhaustion Run following the real beer; RER should go down.
Result No metabolic differences in RER between the real beer and placebo trials.
Takeaway Moderate beer consumption did not significantly alter the availability or use of carbs for fuel the next morning.
RUN TO EXHAUSTION TIME (RTE)
The amount of time the runner lasted on the treadmill, running at 80 per cent of his or her maximum
Hypothesis If alcohol harms recovery, runners should feel depleted sooner after drinking post-run beers, therefore reaching their exhaustion points sooner during their next runs.
Result Men reached exhaustion points 21 per cent sooner the morning after drinking real beer (compared with placebo beer); women took 22 per cent longer to reach exhaustion after real beer.
Takeaway Men performed worse the morning after drinking a few post-run beers, while the women performed better. But given our small sample size, these results should be taken with a grain of (margarita) salt.
For more results, pick up a March 2012 issue of Runner's World at newsstands or your nearest Coles.
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