Alcohol and Physical Performance

What are the short-term effects of alcohol on physical performance?

Short-term effects of alcohol include a decreased attention span, a lack of balance, sleep disturbance and dehydration. In terms of mental effects, alcohol inhibits the ability to make sound judgements and affects concentration and focus. Sleep disturbance can be detrimental to an athlete’s performance as the athlete will feel tired and will struggle to maintain energy levels and focus. Dehydration can contribute to several issues which may have a negative effect on physical performance; these include a build-up of waste products, such as lactic acid, thickening of the blood, impaired homeostasis (this affects the body’s ability to control its temperature) and a slower rate of absorption (this means nutrients take longer to reach the muscles). Agility and balance are also affected by alcohol.

What are the long term effects of alcohol on physical performance?

In the long-term, alcohol consumption can lead to dependence which can impact on an athlete’s work and social life. Performance will almost certainly decrease significantly if an athlete drinks over a prolonged period of time; the body is not capable to perform at optimum rate under the stresses placed on it by excessive alcohol consumption. In addition, the body is less able to recover from injuries if it has to deal with a large intake of alcohol. Alcohol dependence contributes to serious health issues including heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver; it has also been linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.


Research has suggested that aerobic (cardiovascular) performance is severely inhibited by alcohol; alcohol has also been linked to effects including nausea, vomiting and dizziness during physical activity. Studies have also indicated a serious decline in mental focus, ambition and motivation following alcohol consumption.

Advice for athletes

Experts recommend that alcohol intake amongst elite athletes is moderated carefully. Generally, it is considered unwise to drink up to 24 hours before a game or event; it is also important to rehydrate fully before drinking after the activity. Alcohol should be avoided by athletes who are suffering with an injury; research has proven that alcohol affects the body’s ability to heal. Binge drinking (drinking rarely but heavily) should be avoided as it places considerable strain on the major organs, especially the liver, which may take up to 3 weeks to recover fully.

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