It’s no secret that running culture does leave a lot of room for the use of alcohol.
Whether it’s a post group run trip to the pub, or a glass of wine at the end of a long day of training, many runners do not shy away from the occasional (or frequent) alcoholic beverage.
But do runners get drunk faster?
As a general rule, science explains that runners have a higher metabolic rate and with alcohol consumption, most runners will get drunk faster than normal. This is especially true if you have a relatively empty stomach.
Of course, we must account for usage and overall tolerance, as a more frequent drinker of alcohol will still have a higher tolerance even if they have just completed a run.
Let’s dig a little deeper into how alcohol is processed through your body, and how running might impact that.
Once we know more about that, we can see if runners truly do get drunk faster, and what some of the repercussions of drinking could be while training.
How The Human Body Processes Alcohol
First of all, the body processes alcohol through the liver, which prioritizes alcohol metabolization because it perceives it as a poison (which it essentially is). Your liver will drop whatever else it is doing to make sure it begins processing the alcohol within your body.
For reference, a standard drink that you might get at the bar (12oz. Beer, glass or wine, or a shot) will process in about an hour.
When you have been out running, it is possible that you will feel the effects of the alcohol quicker than if you have not run. This is probably due to your increased metabolic rate that will result from running.
This applies for acute cases (drinking directly after a run) and also more cornically (running consistently and then feeling the buzz quicker in general).
When your metabolic rate is higher, it will definitely lead to faster processing of all substances within your body, including alcohol.
If you add an empty stomach on top of that run, then you will practically be asking for a quick spiffy while drinking.
That being said, just because you can optimize your buzz with running, that does not mean you should.
Drinking too much alcohol disrupts many other processes within your body because it drops many other functions to process the alcohol.
This can negatively impact your adaptations from the run you completed in acute cases, but if this is a habit then you could be leaving a lot of supercompensation on the table.
Alcohol isn’t the healthiest substance to begin with, so while one or two drinks every now and then shouldn’t be an issue, it's probably best not to make a habit of it.
How Running Could Impact Alcohol Absorption (and make us drunk faster)
As we mentioned briefly above, when you are training or running frequently, the body is kicked into overdrive and processes most ingested substances at a high level, so it would make intuitive sense that running might mean we process alcohol quicker, especially when drinking right after a run.
Anecdotally, pretty much every response we got for this article said that they will achieve a buzz faster after a run than at really any other activity.
On the more technical side, after alcohol enters your bloodstream, it is almost immediately sent to the kidneys for processing.
Even moderate amounts of running will give you a quick metabolic boost, which will get your liver processing that alcohol quicker.
Basically, if you are running regularly and have a drink, then it's a good bet that it will absorb faster and get you a buzz much quicker than normal.Furthermore, if you are drinking after just completing a run, then you’ll almost certainly feel the alcohol processing and hitting quickly.
How Alcohol Could Impact Running Performance
As we discussed earlier, alcohol is actually processed as a poison in your body, so of course there will be some negative repercussions with excessive use of this substance. Some are acute, and others can be chronic.
To put it simply, alcohol will make you go to sleep fast, but will not allow your body to sink into its natural sleep cycle. It interrupts the phases of sleep that help your body recover and adapt to all of the training that you may have done.
You are inevitably leaving many gains on the table, and maybe even going backwards because your body cannot recover from the workout you did that broke you down.
You will also just not be able to sleep as long, which will leave you feeling wide awake at first, but then quite tired and fatigued.
Unless you’ve planned to take the day off after a night out, then odds are your workout the next day will be lagging behind and might put you in a deeper recovery hole than you had to begin with.
Alcohol essentially suchs the moisture right out of your body. That hangover you get after a long night out is mostly just severe dehydration as a result of alcohol consumption.
Besides delaying recovery throughout your entire body, dehydration means your organs and muscles will have less water in them, which will make you prone to cramping, and muscle strains in some cases.
The best advice we can give you is if you are planning to be drinking, then always be consuming water throughout your time and maybe even top yourself off with an electrolyte beverage at the end of the night (it will taste amazing anyway!).
This goes along with what we have already been talking about, but the liver is an organ that helps your body recover from any sort of exercise, and when it is entirely busy with processing alcohol it will neglect any of the recovery it could be helping with post run.
Furthermore, it interferes with the other methods that your body uses to help recover and super compensate after a run (i.e sleep, proper hydration, and processing other macronutrients).
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has certain guidelines for consumption of alcohol. Their guidelines state the following;
“Acute alcohol ingestion is not associated with improvement in exercise capacity and may decrease performance levels; the consumption of alcohol may perturb the body’s temperature regulation mechanisms during exercises particularly in a cold environment.”
That about sums it up nicely.
Lowers Testosterone (chronically)
Although alcohol has been shown to acutely boost testosterone levels by up to 15%, it leads to a net decrease in testosterone in your body.
For the men that do not already know, testosterone is one of the primary natural chemical drivers of muscle growth and athletic adaptations.
Alcohol will reduce your body’s natural levels, and also suppress other natural functions that increase it (i.e. sleep and nutrient absorption).
Fair to say, if you seek to keep testosterone levels normal or high, then alcohol is not your best bet.
It is safe to conclude that runners do get drunk faster, for a couple of different reasons.
With a higher resting and active metabolic rate, your body will almost certainly process the alcohol in your body faster than normal, which will lead to getting drunk quicker in many cases (especially on an empty stomach).
There are plenty of short and long-term health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption, but that does not stop most of the general population from partaking in the occasional night out.The most important thing is to know and understand the health and recovery impacts that alcohol has on your body, but that does not mean you cannot responsibly enjoy a couple of drinks from time to time.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Me.