Curious How Mindful Drinking Can Help You Thrive? 🎉🙌
Click Here
An athlete running on the road during dusk/dawn
Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Affect Fitness and Performance of Athletes?

December 25, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 25, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 25, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 25, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
December 25, 2023
19 min read

You’re tying up your shoelaces, about to head out on a 5-mile jog. You’ve stuck to this habit for months, but despite training diligently, you notice that your performance has plateaued. There haven’t been too many new changes to your life. Well, except the fact you’ve started drinking a couple of beers after work to blow off steam. Wait … could the beers be to blame?

That begs an important question: does alcohol impact sports performance and fitness goals? Will cutting back on — or quitting — alcohol help us feel fitter, stronger, and healthier? We’ll explore the relationship between alcohol and athletic performance, plus offer tips to maintain fitness by maintaining healthier drinking habits.

How Does Alcohol Impact Sports Performance?

Alcohol is a seemingly harmless social lubricant. Many of us are used to post-work happy hours, evening nightcaps, celebratory toasts, and weekend wine tasting trips with friends. 

However, when athletes consume alcohol, even in moderate amounts, several physiological functions vital for peak performance are impaired, sabotaging athletic performance. Here are a few of the most prominent ones to look out for.


Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it’s a key factor contributing to dehydration. Diuretics increase urine production by inhibiting the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) from the pituitary gland, which normally signals the kidneys to reabsorb water. When ADH levels drop, the kidneys expel more water, leading to increased urine output. This diuretic effect can significantly impact hydration status, thereby affecting fitness performance.

Hydration plays a critical role in maintaining optimal muscle function and temperature regulation. Muscles require adequate water to maintain electrolyte balance and facilitate neuromuscular reactions. Dehydration can lead to an imbalance in electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, crucial for muscle contractions. When dehydrated, muscles are more prone to cramps, a condition in which muscles involuntarily contract painfully and persistently.

Furthermore, dehydration can affect temperature regulation. During physical activity, our body produces heat. To dissipate this heat and maintain a stable internal temperature, our body relies on sweat evaporation. Dehydration, however, reduces our body's ability to sweat, increasing the risk of overheating and heat-related illnesses. This impaired temperature regulation can further reduce athletic performance as our body diverts resources to cool itself down, rather than fueling muscle activity.

The cumulative effect of dehydration on muscle function, electrolyte balance, and temperature regulation can significantly hinder athletic performance. Over time, this can reduce endurance, strength, and overall capacity to perform physical activities effectively.

Energy Metabolism

Alcohol consumption impacts energy metabolism, particularly the processing of glycogen, a stored form of glucose. Glycogen is the primary energy source during high-intensity physical activities, during which our body requires immediate and substantial energy. Alcohol negatively alters the way our body manages glycogen.

The liver plays a central role in metabolizing both alcohol and glycogen. When alcohol is present, the liver prioritizes its metabolism over other substances, including glycogen. This prioritization is due to alcohol’s toxic nature and the body's need to eliminate it quickly. During this process, the synthesis of glucose from glycogen, known as glycogenolysis, is inhibited. Additionally, glycogenesis, the formation of new glycogen from glucose is also impaired.

This disruption in glycogen metabolism leads to lower glucose availability for muscles during high-intensity exercises. As a result, we may become exhausted more quickly as our primary energy source is compromised. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in activities that heavily rely on anaerobic energy systems, such as sprinting or weightlifting, where glycogen is the key fuel.

Moreover, alcohol can interfere with our blood sugar balance. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can occur during or after drinking, further compromising energy availability. This condition can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, and fatigue, all of which are detrimental to athletic performance.

Finally, drinking can result in willpower depletion, especially when it comes to cultivating and sustaining healthy habits. Alcohol consumption might contribute to a decrease in discipline, potentially leading to unhealthy dietary choices that hinder energy metabolism. 


The process of recovery, particularly protein synthesis, is crucial for muscle repair and growth. Protein synthesis involves the creation of new proteins from amino acids, which is vital for repairing the microscopic tears in muscle fibers caused by intense exercise. However, alcohol consumption can significantly hinder this process.

Alcohol disrupts the normal pathways of protein synthesis in several ways. First, it interferes with the way our body processes and uses amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. This interference can decrease the rate at which muscles synthesize new protein. Additionally, alcohol can lead to hormonal imbalances. Drinking too much reduces the secretion of growth hormone and testosterone, both of which are crucial for muscle growth and repair. This hormonal imbalance further exacerbates protein synthesis.

The compromised muscle repair process means that regular alcohol consumption can prolong the recovery period after exercise. This prolonged recovery not only makes training less effective but also increases the risk of injury. When muscles are not fully recovered, they are more susceptible to strain and overuse injuries. Furthermore, incomplete recovery can lead to chronic fatigue, reducing our overall performance capacity and training quality.

Coordination and Cognitive Functions

Alcohol’s impact on the central nervous system significantly affects coordination, reaction time, and decision-making skills — key elements in sports performance. Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain function and altering the communication between neurons.

When it comes to coordination, alcohol impairs motor skills and balance, both of which are essential for most athletic activities. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect our fine motor skills, leading to clumsiness and uncoordinated movements. This impairment can drastically affect performance in sports that require precise movements, such as gymnastics or tennis.

Reaction time is another critical component affected by alcohol. The depressant effects of alcohol slow down our brain's processing speed, resulting in delayed reaction times. In sports, where split-second decisions and reactions are necessary, this delay can be the difference between success and failure. For instance, in team sports such as basketball or football, a player’s ability to react quickly to opponents' movements is crucial.

Furthermore, alcohol affects decision-making skills and judgment. It reduces inhibitions and impairs the ability to assess risks accurately. This impaired judgment can lead to poor decision-making on the field or court, such as misjudging distances, making wrong strategic choices, or engaging in risky plays that could lead to injury.

Other Long-Term Health Effects of Alcohol for Athletes

Beyond the immediate impact on performance, regular alcohol consumption poses significant long-term health risks for athletes:

  • Cardiovascular risks. Contrary to popular belief, regular alcohol intake increases the risk of heart-related issues, including hypertension and arrhythmic events. Indulging over the holidays, especially, can result in a condition known as “holiday heart syndrome,” which is linked to stroke risk. 

  • Immune function. Regular consumption weakens the immune system, making athletes more susceptible to infections. More sick time means interrupted training schedules and delays in fitness improvements. Over time, impaired immune function due to alcohol may also result in chronic conditions such as autoimmune diseases and even certain cancers, further affecting our ability to stick to fitness goals.

  • Weight management. Alcohol is calorie-dense and can contribute to weight gain. Many alcoholic beverages are also high in sugar, which can get stored as fat, resulting in conditions such as insulin resistance. This can impact sports players’ fitness and performance by decreasing endurance and making it more difficult to build muscle. 

  • Sleep disruptions. Drinking alcohol, especially close to bedtime, can lead to restless nights. Sleep is essential for muscle repair, injury recovery, and overall mental wellness. Missing out on sleep gets in the way of reaching athletic goals and improving performance over time. It can also make us too tired to exercise in the first place, setting us further back in our training regimens. 

  • Mental health challenges. Alcohol also alters the natural neurotransmitter balance in our brains, including dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. While many of us may drink to relax, chronic consumption worsens our mental health by depleting these mood-boosting neurotransmitters. When these challenges become chronic or severe through anxiety and/or depression, we may be less likely to stick to our training schedule. Without our athletic pursuits as a healthy outlet, our mental health can worsen, reinforcing a vicious cycle.

  • Alcohol myopia. Drinking can also lead to alcohol myopia, which, according to a 2014 Frontiers in Psychology study, “leads people to disproportionally focus on the salient rather than the peripheral aspects of a situation.” For example, when an athlete under the influence of alcohol faces a decision, they might focus only on immediate aspects (like the thrill of a risky move) and neglect the potential for injury or long-term harm. This might lead them to engage in dangerous activities or stunts they would normally avoid.

Tips To Maintain Fitness by Drinking Less

The good news is that reducing alcohol intake positively impacts sports performance in athletes, and can support fitness goals. Here are a few science-backed ways to achieve this balance:

  • Understand your intake. Awareness is the first step toward change. Noting down each drink can provide insights into drinking patterns and triggers. You can either do this by keeping a drinking journal or use a specialized feature such as Reframe’s personalized drink tracker. 

  • Set realistic goals. Gradual reduction in alcohol use is more sustainable than abrupt cessation. It’s also safer, especially if you’ve been consuming a lot of alcohol. If you typically consume five drinks per session, aim to reduce it to three. 

  • Hydrate alternately. For every alcoholic drink, have a glass of water. This habit not only reduces alcohol consumption but also mitigates dehydration. 
  • Choose quality over quantity. Opt for a smaller quantity of a healthier drink, such as something low in sugar and overall alcohol content. Practice mindful drinking, in which you enjoy each drink and notice its impact on your body. Savoring a drink can reduce your overall intake.

  • Embrace social strategies. In social settings, opt for non-alcoholic alternatives or volunteer as the designated driver to avoid the social pressure of drinking. Confide in friends and loved ones you trust about your goals to drink less (or not at all). This support can be paramount when introducing new changes into your life. 

  • Rethink rewards. Instead of rewarding a good workout with alcohol, choose healthier alternatives such as a favorite meal or a movie night. Over time, your brain will come to seek this healthier reward over alcohol. 

  • Seek support. If reducing your intake seems challenging, consider joining support groups or seeking professional help. We have a global community of fellow Reframers waiting to offer guidance on our app, and we also have several licensed coaches who can give you compassionate guidance.

Each of these steps offers a practical approach to moderating your alcohol consumption, leading to improved athletic performance and health. 

The Takeaways

Changing our drinking habits can feel daunting, especially in a culture where our social life often revolves around it. However, the benefits it brings to athletic performance and overall health are undeniable. Unfortunately, many athletes are unaware of the extent to which alcohol can hinder their athletic goals. By taking manageable steps towards moderation, not only can we witness improved physical performance, but also a general enhancement in well-being.

The journey towards a healthier relationship with alcohol is deeply personal and varies from person to person. What remains constant is the positive ripple effect it has on various aspects of life. A little change in habit, a considerable leap in health — it's within reach for everyone!

Summary FAQs

1. How does alcohol consumption impact dehydration in athletes? 

Alcohol acts as a diuretic, leading to increased urine production and dehydration. Dehydration adversely affects muscle function and temperature regulation, increasing the risk of cramps, fatigue, and heat-related issues.

2. What is the effect of alcohol on energy metabolism during sports? 

Alcohol consumption disrupts glycogen metabolism in the liver, impeding the body’s ability to process this key energy source during high-intensity activities. This can result in quicker exhaustion and reduced performance.

3. Can drinking alcohol affect muscle recovery after exercise? 

Yes, alcohol impairs protein synthesis which is essential for muscle repair and growth. Regular alcohol intake can prolong recovery periods, make training less effective, and increase the risk of injuries.

4. How does alcohol influence coordination and cognitive functions in athletes?

Alcohol affects the central nervous system, impairing coordination, slowing reaction time, and compromising decision-making skills. These effects can significantly diminish an athlete’s performance and increase the risk of accidents.

5. Is it possible to balance alcohol consumption and high-level athletic performance? 

While moderation and balance are key, reducing or quitting alcohol intake can significantly enhance athletic performance. Awareness of consumption patterns, setting realistic reduction goals, and opting for healthier rewards can help maintain this balance.

6. What are the long-term health risks of regular alcohol consumption for athletes? 

Long-term risks include cardiovascular issues, weakened immune function, and challenges in weight management. These can adversely affect an athlete's overall health and performance longevity.

7. Are there specific strategies to reduce alcohol intake for athletes? 

Strategies include tracking alcohol consumption, alternating alcoholic drinks with water, choosing quality over quantity, using social strategies to avoid pressure, and seeking support if needed. These approaches can aid in gradually reducing alcohol intake.

Drink Less and Maintain Fitness With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
Reframe has helped over 2 millions people to build healthier drinking habits globally
Take The Quiz
Our Editorial Standards
At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
Learn more
Updated Regularly
Our articles undergo frequent updates to present the newest scientific research and changes in expert consensus in an easily understandable and implementable manner.
Table of Contents
Call to action for signing up reframe app
Relevant Articles
No items found.
Ready to meet the BEST version of yourself?
Start Your Custom Plan
Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
5 Star Reviews
Downloads (as of 2023)
a bottle and a glass
Drinks Eliminated

Scan the QR code to get started!

Reframe supports you in reducing alcohol consumption and enhancing your well-being.

Ready To Meet the Best Version of Yourself?
3,250,000+ Downloads (as of 2023)
31,364 Reviews
500,000,000+ Drinks eliminated
Try Reframe for 7 Days Free! Scan to download the App