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The Effects Of Alcohol On Football Performance

The Effects Of Alcohol On Football Performance

Written by Shaun Ward

The effects of alcohol on physical and psychological performance are well known. It goes without saying that consumption pre-exercise is going to negatively impact balance, reaction time, strength, power, speed and endurance…but alcohol can also cause less obvious damage within the body.

Negative Effects of Alcohol

As a footballer, the main unseen negative effect of alcohol is the impact it has on your body’s ability to recover post-exercise. Full recovery requires rebuilding of muscle tissue, restoration of energy stores and rehydration. Alcohol has been proven to negatively affect all three of these aspects of recovery.

Rebuilding of muscle tissue:

Alcohol decreases post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is extremely important as it’s the process by which the body builds new muscle proteins to replace the muscle proteins damaged in a hard or intense exercise session. Science has shown that post-exercise muscle protein synthesis can be decreased by up to 75% when alcohol is present in the body and the effects can last for up to 24 hours.

Key point:

As an athlete, a typical post-exercise recovery period is going to be around 24-48 hours. If alcohol can impact recovery for up to 24 hours, your recovery is going to be significantly delayed. Keep this in mind if you’re going out for a drink after a game or a training session. If you have another game or training session scheduled in the next 24 hours, you may not be in an optimal state to perform at your best because your recovery is going to be prolonged.

The mechanisms of why alcohol has this effect on muscle protein synthesis are not yet fully understood, but there’s a potential link to a reduction in testosterone levels and more testosterone being converted to oestrogen. Another possible reason is believed to be the suppression of anabolic signalling pathways which tell the muscle cells to generate new protein and to convert the proteins taken in through foods in the diet.

Restoration of Energy Stores

Carbohydrate stores are predominantly utilised during a game of football. Alcohol reduces the amount of carbohydrates taken up into the muscle tissue to be stored for later use, whether that’s your next training session or a match. The exact impact of this on the body is unknown, but studies so far show a dose-dependent relationship, meaning the more alcohol you consume, the more it’s going to interfere with your muscle’s ability to increase its glycogen stores. In extreme cases such as binge drinking, you can be reducing the amount of glycogen (muscle sugar) stored in the muscle by around 50%. This will significantly impact your next training session or match as you have only half the energy supplies normally available to fuel your performance.


Alcohol has a slight diuretic effect. It inhibits an enzyme called vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone, thereby increasing the amount of urine you excrete, making it harder to retain the water you take in post-exercise. Science has shown that for every 1g of alcohol you consume, you will increase your excretion of urine by around 10ml. This may not sound like much, but when you consider that a standard beer or shot of spirit has around 15g of alcohol, drinking six beers or six shots of vodka could increase the amount of urine you excrete by around 1 litre and this will have a significant effect on your ability to recover.

However, it’s worth noting that even when drinking alcohol, you’re generally taking in more fluids than you would normally post-game or exercise. This means the increase in urine excretion is being matched by an increase in fluid intake, so a useful tip is to stick to beers or ciders that have a high fluid content compared to their alcohol content.

Key point:

Shots represent less fluid, thereby they’ll increase the negative impact of the alcohol content, leading to a dehydrated state.

Other Potential Negatives

The negative effects of alcohol extend beyond its impact on post-exercise recovery, but the scientific data is not yet conclusive. Other potential negatives of alcohol include:

  • Increasing the amount of inflammation in the body post-exercise
  • Negatively affect sleeping patterns
  • Compromising your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness or infection
  • Negatively impacting thermoregulation and the body’s ability to maintain the correct temperature

In Summary

The negative effects of alcohol on recovery performance post-exercise generally only present themselves when alcohol intake surpasses around 0.5g per kg of bodyweight. This means if you weigh 80kg, you will experience the negative impacts if you consume around 40g or more of alcohol in one sitting. A standard beer or shot contains around 15g of alcohol, so limiting your intake to 3 drinks is the best approach to reducing the potentially negative effects of a night out on your post-exercise recovery and your performance the next day.

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