Running under the influence this festive season:

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Running under the influence this festive season?

The festive season is a time when many of us enjoy social drinks, however it’s important to consider how a few alcoholic drinks may increase the risk of injury and negatively impact your training and running performance.

Little consideration is often given to the consequences of training ‘the day after the night before’. Though it may not be as obvious, it’s important to be aware that alcohol can remain in the bloodstream for several days. If you have a lingering hangover it is best not to exercise as it can increase your risk of injury and further dehydrate you.

The effects of alcohol are different for each individual, depending on consumption and tolerance, however research shows –

1) Increased likelihood of muscle injuries, namely “pulled muscles” or muscle strains as they are known medically.  Running with alcohol in the bloodstream can result in a slower reaction time, decreased concentration and decreased hand-eye coordination. Not only is this likely to affect performance, but also increases the risk of injury.  Dehydration (listed below) also increases the risk of muscle injury.

2) Increased risk of dehydration.  Many recognise the associated hangover headache the day after a night out and this is a good indicator of the dehydration effects of alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic, which affects the water balance in your body and subsequently too much consumption can lead to dehydration. Training while dehydrated will further exaggerate dehydration and negatively impact your running performance. As a result there is a greater risk of overheating and subsequent injury.  Dehydration can also increase the risk of muscle cramps and muscle strains, which can disrupt training and performance.

3) Decreased muscle recovery and regeneration.  Muscle health is the key to successful training and performance. Alcohol can affect muscle and tendon growth and recovery from injury in two ways:

Reduction in protein synthesis: Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and as a result, higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol are released which reduces the levels of the human growth hormone. The human growth hormone stimulates protein synthesis which is involved in muscle growth and repair. It is important to consider this when attempting to build up your training programme or when recovering from injury.

Reduction in testosterone hormone: When alcohol is present in the blood stream, the release of a toxin from the liver can reduce testosterone levels in the body. Decreases in the testosterone hormone can have a negative impact on growth of muscle and regeneration during recovery.

4) Decreased endurance.  Alcohol can affect endurance during training because it interferes with the way the body makes energy. It does this in two main ways:

Lower levels of blood sugar: When the body breaks down alcohol, the liver cannot produce as much glucose, which results in lower blood sugar levels. Running requires high levels of sugar to give energy for endurance and overall performance. If the available energy supply for skeletal muscle is lower, training performance in relation to endurance will be adversely affected.

Reduction in ATP: As alcohol is a diuretic, it can affect your muscle cells’ ability to produce a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This chemical provides the fuel that is necessary to help your muscles contract. A reduction in the body’s ATP reserve can also result in a lack of energy and negatively affect endurance.

Apex Clinic’s Top Tips towards an injury free Christmas period:

While the best option for your running performance is to be alcohol free, we would not be as bold to suggest this over the festive season!  Here are a few tips to minimise the effect of alcohol consumption on your training regime:

1) Consider alternating between an alcoholic drink and a glass of water to reduce units consumed

2) Try to increase your intake of water particularly before bedtime to help minimise dehydration

3) Do not run for a few days if you have had one too many and then continue with your normal running training

Currently out of action with a pulled muscle?

If you have a moderate or severe muscle strain, it’s important to see an experienced physiotherapist without delay for treatment. Whilst moderate or severe muscle strains may “feel” like they resolve spontaneously, without treatment there is an extremely high likelihood of suffering a re-occurrence of tearing the same muscle in the future.  This is due to excessive scar tissue within the muscle which builds up from the original injury.  When the person runs again, this area of scar tissue is stressed often resulting in another muscle tear, either just below or above the scar tissue.  The longer the scar tissue builds up over time, the longer it will take to clear it, so early treatment will mean less treatment. Your physio should do soft tissue work on the scar tissue to break it down and restore full flexibility to the whole muscle, in combination with a stretching and strengthening programme.

Wishing you all an injury-free festive season from the team at Apex Clinic!