Just getting to the finish line is plenty to celebrate, but some theme races (we see you, BeerFit Running Series) are starting the party a little early. Running a 5K is a great way to spend a Sunday… and we don’t mind condoning a lazy afternoon spent with a few glasses of wine or beer. But before we combine these two seemingly opposite (and yet somehow equally enjoyable) activities, we wanted to do our homework. We know all those amazingly in-shape runners aren’t steering us wrong by running toward a winery, grabbing cups of red along the way — but is it seriously safe to run while boozing?
Experts say the key is to drink in moderation and listen to your body. It’s best to stick to “mildly intoxicating levels,” says National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified trainer Vanessa Martin, founder of SIN workouts, who is careful to mention that she doesn’t condone the mix of alcohol and fitness as a whole. On the other hand, booze has beneficial effects in the body as long as we stick to those moderate levels. “Alcohol works as a vasodilator to relax and open up blood vessels. In turn, this is useful in transporting red blood cells to the muscles,” she says.
Once you hit a certain threshold, however, the reverse effect occurs. “The blood vessels constrict, allowing less oxygenated blood to transport through the body, making work more difficult,” Martin says. Stick with a lower dose — the amount in question will depend on your body — to stay on the helpful size of alcohol’s effects. “Simply stated,” Martin says, “in my experience, alcohol can help take your mind off the 20-mile run you have to do for training.” Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that will tell you how much to drink on race day. Listen to your body, and try trial and error before the big day to make sure you can handle alcohol on top of your physical activity.
Carl Ewald, executive director of the ODDyssey Half Marathon, says small quantities of alcohol (think the cups at a water stop) can be beneficial late in a race when the body is craving simple calories. Naturally, he reminds us to keep alcohol content in mind, “especially after long-distance runs when you may already be significantly dehydrated and calorie deprived.” Martin and SIN lead run coach Vinnie Marino suggest noncarbonated beverages.
Races such as the Craft Brew Race series and the Enchanted Forest Wine Run finish in boozy destinations, and according to California-based writer and runner Carolyn Smuts, “Following a race, beer is practically essential.”
If you’re worried about staving off a hangover in addition to your next-day soreness, Martin reminds us to stay away from sugary drinks as well. “Sadly, with the amount of sugars in most alcohols, the crash and hangover will be heightened if you’re downing a few gin and tonics right after a workout,” she says. “One of the bests things we have found after an endurance race is a cold bottle of easy-drinking beer.”