Ask the Coach – How Many Bottles of Beer on the Wall?

Ask the Coach – How Many Bottles of Beer on the Wall?

Joe wrote to me on facebook today: With the Superbowl just around the corner. I have a question for you about alcohol and recovery. I am in my preseason for training and was wondering what the affect of a couple of beers would have on my recovery? Would it be recommend to just steer clear of the wonderful liquid spirit? Or could I enjoy a few during the game.


Great question, Joe! The Superbowl is almost a national holiday here, and the amount of food and beer that we drink is astounding. According to a 2009 slashfood.com post, Super Bowl Sunday is the 8th biggest beer day in the US, with consumers buying 51.7 million cases of beer. If a case is twelve, 12oz bottles or cans, each case contains a little over a gallon of beer. That’s over 58 million gallons of beer purchased by US consumers! (But I’ll let you all ponder how Easter beat out Super Bowl Sunday in terms of beer sales…)

Another post estimates the consumption as being over 325 million gallons (I don’t believe that one), and has some other interesting numbers about food and drink on Super Bowl Sunday (if you can believe what you read on the internet!)


That said, let’s look at a couple things:
1) Alcohol’s impact on your body
2) The recovery your body needs


Let’s examine the first topic, alcohol’s impact on your body. Without going into too much detail (this is a link for more nitty-gritty), once the alcohol (also know as ethyl alcohol) is consumed, it is quickly absorbed through the stomach, and then through the small intestine. It hits the blood stream in minutes. Alcohol is a toxin, but it’s made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, so the body finds a way to eventually break it down to harmless components.  The major processes (simplified) are:

  • Ethyl alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde (similar to formaldehyde)
  • Acetaldehyde is converted into acetic acid radical (acetic acid = vinegar!)
  • Acetic acid radical combines with Coenzyme A to form acetyl-CoA. 
  • The acetyl-CoA then gets broken down into carbon dioxide and water via the Krebs Cycle.
  • More details on the above chemistry can be found here: http://hamsnetwork.org/metabolism/ and the nitty-gritty link above.
Some other facts about alcohol:
  • While your body processes alcohol, nutrient absorption can be inhibited (not good for recovery).
  • Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, but no nutritional value (aka empty calories, also not good for recovery.)
  • Alcohol is a depressant.
  • Consuming too much alcohol can lead to excessive loss of fluids (how many times do you go to the bathroom when you drink a lot of beer?) Dehydrated states are not good for recovery.
  • In moderation (~1-2 servings per day), alcohol is thought to provide cardiovascular benefits.
  • Your liver can only process so much alcohol at a time, so too much is a burden on your body (with potential long-term effects we probably all learned about in 7th grade health class.)

Additional reference: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 3rd Ed (2003), p. 130-131

Now I’ll address recovery the body needs. In simplified terms, after a workout session you “break down” systems in your body and they need to be repaired. Once repaired, they come back stronger, and we gain “fitness” or muscle strength, or improve what ever system we were training. In order to get repaired effectively, the body needs nutrients (macro and micro), fluid for hydration, and rest. Sleep releases human growth hormone which really helps with recovery.

But on his question, Joe states he’s in his preseason training. I’m going on the assumption that he neither has a lot of volume nor intensity in his training plan. So given a normal healthy diet (plenty of fruits and veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats), he stays hydrated, and gets adequate sleep on a regular basis, Joe should be getting ample recovery between workouts. Therefore if he wants to have a couple beers on Superbowl Sunday, and consumes them slowly with food (food in the stomach slows absorption into the bloodstream) and consumes some water with the beverages, it shouldn’t impact his training. The body will be able to handle the alcohol. If he also eats some salty foods (electrolyte source) which are typically served at Superbowl parties (also in moderation!), they can help make sure he stays hydrated. But he didn’t ask about what he should be eating…

Coach Nicole is the author of The Triathlete’s Guide to Race Week. She is also the founder and head coach for NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness, a Colorado-based endurance sport coaching company. She is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and also coaches triathlon for Team In Training. Learn more at http://neoendurancesports.com/. You can contact Coach Nicole on facebooktwitter or via email at nicole@neoendurancesports.com.

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Nicole Odell

nicole@neoendurancesports.com

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