How alcohol affects sports performance

Trying to train or compete with a hangover can affect your performance.

Alcohol also affects:

  • endurance
  • reaction times
  • muscle development
  • hydration
  • recovery


Your body needs blood sugar for energy. The liver produces this when it releases glucose into the bloodstream.

Alcohol also affects how you absorb nutrients such as:

  • zinc - for energy and metabolism
  • vitamins B1 and B12 - for oxygen transport

Alcohol can affect the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is the energy source for your muscles.

To perform to the best of your abilities, it's best not to drink alcohol in the 48 hours before sporting activity. But if you do consume alcohol in this period, keep it to 1 or 2 units and drink lots of water to help keep you hydrated.

Reduced aerobic performance

Alcohol reduces your body’s ability to convert food to energy. It also reduces carbohydrates and blood sugar levels. These, and lactic acid build-up and dehydration, combine to reduce aerobic performance.

Slower reactions

Alcohol is a sedative. It can affect your sports performance for up to 72 hours after you have finished drinking.

Drinking alcohol will mean poorer hand-eye coordination and slower responses.


Alcohol’s effect on sleep can reduce the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) in your body. HGH is part of normal muscle building and repair processes.

Alcohol can also reduce testosterone. You need this for muscle development and recovery.

Muscle cramps

During exercise, your muscles burn sugar. This produces lactic acid.

Too much lactic acid leads to muscle fatigue and cramps. Drinking alcohol 24 hours before training or competing increases the lactic acid. This increases your risk of getting muscle cramps.

Injuries and complications

Alcohol makes the recovery period longer. It increases the bleeding and swelling around soft tissue injuries.

These include:

  • sprains
  • bruises
  • cuts
  • muscle injury

Alcohol also masks pain. This may lead you to delay getting treatment. Getting treatment quickly can make all the difference in a speedy recovery.

The usual treatments for muscle injury can be cancelled out due to the effects of alcohol.

If you cannot feel the pain of a muscle injury you are less likely to take care of it. This will slow your recovery time or even cause further damage.


Avoid alcohol if you have an injury. It will complicate your recovery.

Body heat loss

Alcohol is a vasodilator. This means it causes the blood vessels near the surface of the skin to expand. This results in heat loss and lowers your body temperature.


Alcohol promotes water loss. It reduces the production of the antidiuretic hormone, causing you to pee more. This in turn leads to dehydration.

Vitamin and mineral depletion

Water loss from drinking alcohol also means the loss of important minerals such as:

  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • zinc

These help maintain nerve and muscle action and coordination.

Tips for drinking less

Weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025