Alcohol and sport performance

How alcohol affects sport performance

Alcohol can affect your sport and exercise performance:

  • Directly: Due to the effect of alcohol in your body while drinking or after drinking, and
  • Indirectly: Alcohol has effects on your sleep, diet and level of dehydration.

While alcohol use to celebrate sport has long been an Australian tradition, there is increasing evidence to show what a poor partnership alcohol and sport really is.


Alcohol affects the body’s ability to create energy therefore it slows down reaction times and increases body heat loss.

Alcohol affects the central nervous system and slows down the information processing ability of the brain. This in turn slows down your reaction time, hand-eye-coordination, accuracy and balance.

Energy and stamina

The blood sugar that your body needs for energy is produced by your liver when it releases glucose into the blood stream.

Alcohol keeps the liver too busy to produce the required sugar levels to sustain an athlete’s energy and stamina to perform at their peak.


If you have alcohol 24 hours before exercising you are more likely to develop muscle cramps.

While exercising, your muscles burn up glucose, producing lactic acid as a waste product. Too much lactic acid leads to muscle fatigue and cramps. Alcohol that remains in your system contributes to greater build-up of lactic acid, increasing the risk of cramping dramatically.


The ‘drys’ is a term often used to describe an extreme symptom of alcohol’s diuretic (increased urination) effect. This extra fluid loss added to what an athlete sweats out increases the risk of dehydration significantly.

After exercising, the body needs to be rehydrated. It’s not helpful to drink only alcohol as it continues to dehydrate the body further.


Even a small number of drinks can affect performance.

When you combine the effects of lactic acid build up, dehydration and the body converting food to energy less efficiently, an athlete’s aerobic performance is greatly reduced.

Recovery time

If you sustain injury while exercising, and you have had alcohol the night before or drink any alcohol afterwards (while injured), you are likely to increase your recovery time significantly.

Source: Good Sports


The Young Gentleman's and the Young Lady's guide to alcohol highlight the different effects alcohol has on men and women and is aimed at young people aged 15-20 years old.