What's Cool In Road Cycling

Holiday Booze: Threat Or Menace?

What makes the next month’s rides different? After all other rides, we come home and drink Endurox and eat a high carbohydrate meal. But for the next few weeks, we’ll be shifting to a high intake of festive cocktails, turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Enjoy the indulgence, but beware the pitfalls…

We all know we’re going have a few (or a few too many) drinks in the approaching months but what kind of effect is this going to have on all your hard training? The big question I always hear is, ‘If I’m going to drink’ (translation, I’m gonna get wasted), ‘what’s going to do the least amount of damage?’ Here’s a handy guide to keep in mind during the upcoming holiday season.

First, for those of you trying to maintain your lean racing weight and not pack on those holiday pounds, here’s some caloric info on your basic drinks. The top five worst alcoholic mixed drinks in terms of calories are Margaritas, Mudslides, Long Island Iced Teas, White Russians and Piсa Coladas. Malt liquor beverages such as Mikes Hard Lemonade can also be especially bad at about 240 calories per bottle. (Fortunately, these are mostly girlie drinks – ed.)

I know a lot of cyclists have a few Red Bulls sitting in the back of the fridge. Besides the calories, the caffeine and stimulants in these can trick the body into thinking it is more sober or alert than it actually is (thus negating the body’s built in safety measure of passing out). Plus, high levels of caffeine can boost heart rate and blood pressure, causing palpitations and since caffeine and alcohol are diuretics the dehydration effects can cause a worse hangover.

That Shot Has How Many Calories?
If hard alcohol is your thing, your best bet is to stick with the basics. Shots! One shot of vodka may have between 100 to 120 calories, while a screwdriver has about 190. The higher the proof, the higher the calorie content (7 calories per gram) but of course you will need less of it to reach you final goal.

Hello, Mr. Beer!
If you’re on a calorie budget and decide to go with beer, stick to the light variety. The new Michelob Ultra is pretty economical with just 2.6 grams of carbohydrates. That’s lower than almost all of the other light beers by half a gram to a gram. However, lab tests with animals have shown that dark beers may have some beneficial properties. There are certain types of antioxidants found in beer (but are more concentrated in dark ones) that can help protect cell membranes. Also, hamsters given the human equivalent of two beers a day had a 50 percent reduction of arteriosclerosis, fatty buildup in blood vessels.

However before you go out and buy a six-pack remember that the benefits are greatest, when one beer is consumed. Also, forget about the old idea of beer being a good fluid replacement or carbohydrate source after a ride. The dehydrating properties eliminate any possible benefits from beer’s electrolytes and a 12-ounce can has only 14 grams of carbs, as compared to 40 grams in a can of soda. However, beer does have a few nutritional merits, such as significant amounts of B-12, a vitamin important for vegetarians (but how many beer guzzling vegetarians do you know?).

A Fine Wine…
Overall, wine may be your best bet because it has some beneficial properties. Red wine, for example, contains health-protective phytochemicals that may reduce the risk of heart disease. Red wine is also a good source of dietary iron, a mineral that helps prevent anemia. If you’re going with wine and you’re on a diet, you’ll avoid some calories by drinking the dry stuff. A glass of dry wine has about 110 calories where a glass of sweet dessert wine can have up to about 220. Fortunately, champagne has about the same amount as a typical dry wine

Booze: The Alternative Fuel Source!
However, the real danger in alcohol to cyclists might not have anything to do with the calorie content. In fact, the body does not convert those calories into fat the way it does with carbohydrates. Instead, the liver converts it into acetate, which the body burns for fuel instead of fat thus hindering any attempts to lose weight because fat cells are never utilized. On the other hand, alcohol can impair the mechanisms by which the body controls blood glucose levels, resulting in decreased blood glucose our main source of energy. It also inhibits the enzymes that help process nutrients so forget about those expensive vitamins you’ve been taking. To make matters worse, alcohol also burns up supplies of vitamin C and B complex vitamins, which regulate important enzyme and metabolic functions. In addition, after alcohol is consumed, the body excretes twice as much Calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and to heal fractures.

Alcohol may effect sports performance in other ways as well. Sleep patterns are affected by even moderate alcohol intake. As little as one ounce of alcohol consumed before going to bed can cause fragmented sleep and thus interfere with the recovery process that eventually leads to improve conditioning. It also may effect your skills and reaction time. Although you may feel sober a few hours after you drink, the effects last much longer than that. If you party hard on a Thursday night, cognitively, you won’t be back to normal until Sunday. That’s three long rides!

So whatever you decide to do, have fun, but don’t drink and drive (or ride)!


Josh is a Cat1 pro and licensed USCF cycling coach from Southern California, reporting for PezCycling News from deep inside the bunch at the Tour of Southland in New Zealand. Check out his website at www.liquidfitness.com.

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