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Alcohol and sports performance


Aside from the obvious problems of trying to train or compete with a hangover, alcohol affects endurance, reaction times, muscle development and recovery.

If you like to hit the gym, don’t hit the bottle…


The blood sugar your body needs for energy is produced by the liver when it releases glucose into the blood stream. Drinking alcohol in the 48 hour period before competing or training reduces your body’s ability to produce this sugar, so you have less energy and less endurance capacity. Alcohol also impair the absorption of nutrients such as zinc (energy metabolism), vitamins B1 and B12 (healthy blood, oxygen transport). Alcohol can affect the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles' source of energy.

Muscle development

Alcohol use can affect protein synthesis, reducing muscle build-up and cancelling out the benefits of your workout.

Muscle injury

The usual treatment for injury (rest, ice, compression, elevation) can be negated due to the painkilling effect of alcohol. If you can’t feel the pain of your injury you are less likely to take care of it and slow your recovery time or even cause further damage.

Reduced aerobic performance

Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to convert food to energy and also reduces carbohydrate/blood sugar levels. These effects, together with lactic acid build-up and dehydration, combine to reduce aerobic performance.

Slower reactions

Alcohol is a sedative and it can affect your sports performance for up to 72 hours after you have finished drinking. Some team-game players think they have less tension and increased relaxation as a result of alcohol. The actual result, however, is poorer hand-eye coordination and slower responses.


Alcohol’s effect on sleep can reduce the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) in your body. HGH is part of normal muscle building and repair processes. Alcohol can also reduce testosterone, which is needed for muscle development and recovery.

Muscle cramps

During exercise, your muscles burn sugar, which produces lactic acid. Too much lactic acid leads to muscle fatigue and cramps. If you drink in the 24 hour period before training or competing, the alcohol contributes to a bigger build up of lactic acid and dramatically increases your risk of cramping.

Greater risk for injuries and complications

Alcohol increases the bleeding and swelling around soft tissue injuries (sprains, bruises, and cuts- the most common sports injuries) requiring a longer recovery period. Alcohol also masks pain, which may lead you to delay in getting treatment - rapid treatment can make all the difference in a speedy recovery. If you’ve been injured, avoid alcohol, as it will complicate your recovery. 

Greater body heat loss

Alcohol is a vasodilator (it causes the blood vessels near the surface of the skin to expand) and thereby promotes heat loss and a lowered body temperature.


Alcohol promotes water loss. It reduces the production of the anti-diuretic hormone, causing you to urinate more. This, in turn leads to dehydration.

Vitamin and mineral depletion

Water loss caused by alcohol consumption also means the loss of important minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and zinc. These are vital to the maintenance of fluid balance and nerve and muscle action and coordination.

Read more:

Guide to surviving a night out with your teammates (courtesy of GAA Health and Wellbeing)

O’Brien, C.P. & Lyons, F. Alcohol and the athlete. Sports Med (2000) 29: 295. doi:10.2165/00007256-200029050-00001
Barnes, M.J.  (2014) Alcohol: Impact on Sports Performance and Recovery in Male Athletes. Sports Med 2014. 44: 909. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0192-8
O’Brien CP. Alcohol and sport: impact of social drinking on recreational and competitive sports performance. Sports Med 1993; 15 (2): 71–7
O’Brien CP. The changing face of rugby injuries in Ireland, alcohol a preventable cause. London: The Royal London Hospital, 1995

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