Christmas, alcohol and cycling

‘Tis the season to be jolly and we will all likely be enjoying a few more drinks than usual over the Christmas period. But what effect will it have on your riding, fitness and condition if you have a few too many over the holiday season?

This post is going to be sobering, so if you want to enjoy your Christmas tipple without feeling guilty, perhaps you should read something else.

As a species, cyclists are lighter drinkers than most. Go out on any Saturday to the football or rugby and then out on a Saturday ride and see who drinks the most alcohol. I bet it won’t be the latter. However, Christmas is a funny time of year with a lot of parties and therefore, a lot of alcohol available.

The effects of alcohol

Drinking alcohol doesn’t just affect our judgement and make us weave dangerously around the road, it also has hidden costs. Here are just a few.

Alcohol stops glycogen production

As you probably know, your liver is responsible for converting glucose into glycogen in order to provide energy for riding. This glycogen is fast-access energy used by muscles. The more glycogen you have, the more energy you have and the longer you can ride before hitting the wall or before your body has to begin metabolising fat.

If your liver is busy removing alcohol from your blood, it isn’t processing glucose. So if you’re on a bender and are planning a big ride the next day, you might hit the wall earlier than usual. If that wasn’t enough, unprocessed glucose is transformed into fat.

Alcohol encourages sleep deprivation

While you might spend a long time with your eyes closed after a night on the town, quality sleep it most definitely is not. Alcohol induced sleep is lighter, has less REM and can often be broken. As a result, your body produces less human growth hormone which is essential in your ride recovery. It is the hormone that helps build muscle and repair damage done during a ride.

It also reduces testosterone production in both men and women. Nuff said.

Alcohol can induce dehydration

If you have read my post ‘The importance of proper hydration when cycling’ as little as 2% reduction in fluid levels can have a knock-on effect to athletic performance. As hydration is directly affected by alcohol, this is a definite negative. You can counter it by drinking more water, but the damage may already be done.

Alcohol and the law

Section 30 Road Traffic Act 1988 says, ‘It is an offence for a person to ride a cycle on a road or other public place when unfit to ride through drink or drugs.’ No more need be said on that one.

Alcohol and willpower

Finally, alcohol has a detrimental effect on willpower. Whether it’s just one more pint before staggering home, one more pie before bed or another helping of Christmas pud while watching TV. Eat more while drinking and it all turns to fat. Drinking more while drinking has the same effect.

When you’re bloated, drunk, full of food, warm, cosy or huddled up in front of re-runs of Only Fools and Horses, you’re less likely to be out on the bike. That is an effect of alcohol that nobody wants!

Drink responsibly this Christmas, your bike will love you for it


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