Wine vs. Workouts: Effects of alcohol

I don’t drink a lot, never really have – but I certainly enjoy an occasional beverage.  By ‘not a lot’, I would say I maybe had four drinks all summer long.  Yes…not a lot.

Last Friday night I went out and over the course of dinner and a short trip to a nearby bar I consumed two glasses of wine and a beer.  For me, that barely registered as a light buzz.  Especially given that dinner started at 8PM and I left the bar at midnight.  So three drinks in four hours.  Plus, over that same four hours I probably drank about two liters of water.  I was WAY up on the water.

I went home and continued drinking a lot of water, etc.. and thought nothing of it.  I got 8 hours of sleep in before waking up and feeling ready to go.  No ill affects, felt just fine and dandy.

Like my previous bricks earlier in the week, Saturday morning’s brick was designed as a quick set on the bike followed by a short run.  I hopped on the trainer and began my warm up.

So what did the additional alcohol do to my bike workout?  Check it out:

The Bike

For comparison purposes, I took the same snippet out of both workouts.  This particular snippet was immediately after completing my 10 minute warm-up.  It’s the first five minutes of high cadence drills.

The top graph is September 9th (last Tuesday evening).  You can’t see a ton from the graph, but look at the white text box (click it to expand).  Here’s the key items to keep in mind for that segment:

Sept 9 Avg Power: 234 watts
Sept 9 Avg Heart Rate: 146 bpm

For me, that’s smack in the middle of my Z2 for the bike, and the wattage is so-so for that particular chunk at that cadence (Avg 112RPM).  I can sustain a higher wattage for longer at a more normal cadence, but that’s beside the point.  In short – all is normal and well.

Sept09PowerOutput

Now let’s look at last Saturday morning after wine the night before.  You can immediately see I try to start off at the higher wattage (by applying load on my trainer), but simply can’t sustain it within zone.  So I back off load – a lot.  Note the lines above are nice and smooth, yet below they are all over the place as I continue to try and course correct to stay in zone.

Sept13PowerOutput

But I’m still above Z2 HR (My Z2 for the bike is 139-149).  In fact, my average HR over the course of five minutes still ends up being higher, while my wattage drops over 25 watts (over 10%!!!).

Sept 13 Avg Power: 209 watts
Sept 13 Avg Heart Rate: 150 bpm

So I’ve already lost 12% of my bike power and I still haven’t even gotten my heart rate back into Z2, from Z3.

I was consistently 20-80 watts LOWER for the same or slightly elevated HR.  Now mind you, I felt just fine – I wasn’t on my bike puking or anything.  It’s just that if you look at my power output and my HR, they aren’t even in the same ballpark – especially given the workout was half as long as the one either two or four days earlier.

Oh…but this fun isn’t over yet.  We’ll skip past the section where I normally push 340 watts for intervals and could only manage 260 watts within zone (and yet still mostly out of zone).  Instead we’ll go to the run, where things really become obvious.

The Run

In order to compare ‘like’ segments, I’ve chosen two Z4A areas.  These are fairly quick paces, but I’m still ‘showing restraint’. Z4A heart rate zone is 163 to 169.

While the two segments are different in length (Tues is 5 mins, and Saturday is 2 mins), that has no real bearing (actually, it even more so proves my point). Despite what the GPS says, this was a flat section.  Here’s September 9th (last Tuesday):

Sept09Run

So for this Z4A section the two key averages are:

Sept 9th Pace: 6:28/mile
Sept 9th HR Avg: 168 bpm (upper Z4A)

So all in all, not bad – about where I’d want to be for any given random night AFTER a 45 minute interval ride.

Now let’s look at Saturday morning (post-wine), after only a 24 minute relatively easy ride.

Sept13Run

While I ‘feel’ fine, the technology tells another story.  My HR is now skyrocketing roughly out of control.  And this is only 2 minutes into this set.

Sept 13th Pace: 6:37/mile
Sept 13th HR Avg: 175 bpm (lower Z5A)

That’s an enormousness jump from a heart rate perspective – two zones higher.  It normally takes me going sub-6 in order to break above 173ish.  Thus, on the run I’ve now lost 10 seconds a mile – but that’s the least of my problems – my HR is now 7 bpm higher.  So I’ve not only lost speed, but I’ve also lost two HR zones.

The Summary

Finally, here’s a little table showing the drops (or increases):

image

At first glance you may say “Oh, what’s a 2% drop in race pace”, but you’ve gotta  put in perspective that this is with a 4% INCREASE in HR…which is a lot.  Further, a 12% drop in wattage is a TON, especially considering I increased HR as well.

So what does this mean?  Well, at least for me that drinking just a little bit the night before has a fairly significant effect on my performance – in particular in cycling.  That’s not to say that you would see the same effects – because everyone is different.  But interestingly enough – this is inline with what Elite Triathlete Chris Tremonte posted back a few months ago on the subject.

That all said… I did have the best race of the year the next day…sooo…who knows. ;)

17 Comments

  1. Well, I also think the fact you rarely drink also contributes to it all - I wonder if people who typically have a beer or glass or wine or two with dinner each night would have the same effect...

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  2. Great report my only question is on the run did you run outside or inside because the temp last weekend was extremely hot and when is extremely hot my heart rate goes up a lot . may be that influence on it other than that great job....

    Eric

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  3. Interesting numbers, but question is were the tests done in exactly the same conditions? There are probably more variables at play like eric said - what was the temperature, how much did you hydrate during the exercise, did you ride the same route / set, did you run the same route, etc.?

    I'm not defending drinking here. I do have occasional glass of red wine with evening meal and do not see any such variation in my workouts (unless I get 4 hours of sleep, but then it is totally different game). Truth to be told I had more than 3 drinks this summer so my body may be more accustomed to it.

    There are few studies that have been published recently and discussed in few podcasts that show that light drinking (1 glass women and 2 glasses man) has positive effect on cardiovascular system.

    But you may have been dehydrated from the drinking even if it is only small quantity your body may not be used to it.

    Congratulations on your AG placement this weekend. Quite an effort in that horrible weather. I did long run that day and has a lot of problems on the way.

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  4. Hmmm.. you are such a geek - or should I say..you're a numbers guy... ?

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  5. let that be a lesson to those who want to go out for a few the night before a competition..

    I quit drinking many many years ago but that hasn't helped me...LOL!!!

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  6. Great quetsions. Obviously my analysis isn't an exact science, however here's some things I may not have directly mentioned:

    1) The bike conditions were functionally identical as they were both inside and in the same location in my house.

    2) The run conditions were on the same course, but at different times of day (morning vs afternoon). However, the temp and humidity was similiar, as the first day it was about the same temp in the afternoon as it was still fairly early in the morning on Saturday. Albiet a touch bit higher humidity on Saturday.

    3) My taper: Theoretically speaking, I would have been further into the taper, and thus Saturday should have been stronger/easier - that's the usual pattern when I do this three-some set of workouts the week before the race.

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  7. also, your best race of the year was TWO days post-substance abuse! very informative. I can't drink and train. it's impossible. i have no data but my brain. and it says no no no.

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  8. When I was younger I could drink and train and even drink then race. Now if I drink it kills me. Wine makes me pee 3-4 times a night and that kills my sleep. I'm sooo looking forward to a beer after this season is over. I 'cut' it out 2 months before big races, just have a drink on a special occasion. Then 1 month before I completely cut it out. I had a sip of wine 3 weeks ago. That's pretty much it for this summer.

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  9. From personal experience I do know that alcohol tends to up the heart rate, whether exercising or not. From your data, I guess I'll be going on the wagon!

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  10. I don't know much about the negative effects of alcohol on my training, but I do know that after a drunken night and a slight hangover, my favorite thing to do is go workout. It makes me feel like I'm flushing out all those toxins.

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  11. Well, sh**.

    That's what's been holding me back all this time, isn't it? Damn.

    Actually, I am fully aware that if I cut out alcohol I would probably a) recover better and b) perform better.

    I remember Chris's post a few months ago on that and I commented back then, too.

    The problem is...I live in Sonoma County. And they make amazing wine here. And a lot of good food, too. And wine goes very well with food. Like, when I saw that picture of your steak I immediately thought "oooh, put that with a nicely aged Cabernet Sauvignon and BAM!"

    I think if I lived somewhere else it might not be so hard, but here...oh it's so difficult. Did I also mention that working for a winery gets me discounts on incredible wine?

    But anyway, I do wonder if what Danielle says has something to it - because you don't drink very often, could it impact you more, than, say, me? And you mentioned you had two wines and a beer - mixing is generally something that leads to hangovers as we get older. Could it have been something about that? In spite of the fact that I am a certified wine-o (and beer lover), I never mix. And unless it's a special occasion, never drink more than two glasses of wine. So even though it was well over the course of 4 hours, it still was a considerable amount of alcohol.

    Hmmm...lots of things to consider here. Very interesting!!!

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  12. Hi Nice Blog Good Cardiovascular health is important in maintaining overall health and wellness. Cardiovascular Health is a new section, which will teach you how your heart and cardiovascular system information work when healthy, and what happens when diseased.

    Reply
  13. Brian

    Interesting experiment. Let's do another one (on you ;-)
    How about consuming something else you rarely have, just guessing but like.. a few Krispy Kremes or smoke a couple cigars, then repeat the test.

    Guess I'm wondering if it's the wine or consuming any non-usual items the night before physical exercise causes suboptional performance.

    Could be the wine though.. they don't call it 'inToxication' for nothing.

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  14. "But you may have been dehydrated from the drinking even if it is only small quantity your body may not be used to it."

    Did you not read of the insane amount of water he drank that night?

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  15. Ashley Huber

    All our studies in psych taught us that tollerence plays a huge role in our bodies (and minds) ability to process drugs and alcohol. I'd betting a large portion of this effect seen is due to your body's intollerence to the substance. I would likely not see the same effect as I drink lots, I'm not an alcoholic but we have very european roots and as such I've been drinking wine with almost every meal since I was 13.
    The tollerence effect is why in my University days or heavy drinking and partying I could easily drink a 250lbs man under the table if he wasn't used to drinking. Even at my then weight of 155lbs and being a woman.
    I'm not saying go out and start drinking more to avoid having an effect when you do... but I'm going to lay odds that tollerence was the main variable in this test. Great food for thought though!

    Reply
  16. Dear DCR,

    I really like your site and the thoroughness of your analysis of products and in general. And it really is an interesting question for the ambitious athlete whether or not a little alcohol now and then does really have an impact on your performance.

    You infer: "drinking just a little bit the night before has a fairly significant effect on my performance" As mentioned in other posts, I think that conclusion cannot be derived from this experiment - because there were many things different that second day, not only the drinking.

    Now, the reason I am posting something here is, because I would like to show you that it is mathematically quite simple make a simple calculation to test your hypothesis. Maybe you are interested in incorporating this in further posts. (maybe you know all this, then pardon me and ignore this post).

    Let's say you would like to test the hypothesis, "drinking on day 1 has a negative effect on performance on day 2". In statistical testing the idea is to reverse the problem and test the so called Null-Hypothesis. In that case it would be the hypothesis "drinking has no effect" (usually called H0). Under that assumption you would hopefully agree that the probability, for worse performance on day 2 (let's write "day1>day2") would be exactly 1/2 - because there is some natural variability and we virtually never have "day1=day2".

    We know pose the question: "How large is the probability that I dismiss H0, while H0 is true"? Well, that probability is exactly 1/2^(N), where n is the number of comparative days, in your case N=1. So there is actually a 50% chance that you are drawing the wrong conclusions. Now how many tests would we need to lower that probability to below 1%? You can find that value in Excel using the function BINOMDIST. When you use that function you can find out that when you test 100 training days with alcohol and you would like the probability below 1% for a possibly random result, that you would need at least 61 training days with lowered performance.

    Hope you find this interesting...

    thanks,
    Oliver

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  17. Thanks for interesting article. I love that you are scientific about this! Thank you for the link to Chris Tremonte's post on the same, however I think the link you posted my be wrong ... it came up with a "page not found" notice. I found his blogspot, so I will search from there, but I thought you'd want to know. Cheers!

    Reply

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