Health Nutrition

How fatty food and alcohol affect performance

A night of drinking and heavy eating is not conducive to running. If you are aiming for an athletic goal, you should avoid alcohol and fatty foods as much as possible during this phase. The quality of sleep also has a great influence on the effectiveness of the training. However, this does not mean that you have to become a health fanatic.


Danaë Hilty, physiotherapist and sports physiotherapist Medbase Zurich Oerlikon




Partying and successfully training for a competition – does that go together?

Unfortunately, no. Excesses lead to significant losses in performance, even if you consistently follow a hard training plan. So if you have a sporting goal in mind, you should moderate yourself beforehand.

Do runners have to abstain completely from alcohol?

You can have a beer or a glass of wine now and then. You should just be aware of it: Alcohol inhibits growth hormones and thus muscle building. So drinking alcohol will certainly reduce your training success. And if you drink in the evening, your organs are busy all night breaking down the alcohol – especially the liver. This makes it less easy to recover and replenish the glycogen stores from which you draw energy during sport. Alcohol should therefore preferably not be consumed the night before a hard workout or even a competition.

How does alcohol affect sleep?

Many people believe that alcohol is a good sleeping aid because they feel so relaxed after drinking it. But this is a myth. In fact, the per mille in the blood leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This inhibits regeneration, fat loss and muscle growth. The quality of sleep also decreases: the deep sleep phases are more superficial and the REM phases shorter. (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. In the REM phases, you move your eyes back and forth quickly. Brain activity is high and important processing takes place).

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Is a beer a suitable thirst quencher after training?

No. Like all other alcoholic beverages, beer has a hypertonic effect. This means that it withdraws more water from the body than it supplies. In the process, important minerals such as magnesium, sodium and potassium are also flushed out. So if you want to drink a beer after sport, you should drink water or other beverages in addition. A great alternative is a homemade isotonic apple spritzer: dilute apple juice with the same amount of water and add a pinch of salt.

Why is fatty food such as fondue or saucisson not recommended?

Basically, fats are an important part of the diet. Every cell is surrounded by a protective layer of fat and the body can only absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K when accompanied by fatty foods. Of course, fats (including oils) have a lot of calories, but those who do a lot of exercise also have a high energy turnover.

However, very fatty foods are difficult to digest. And not all fats are equally valuable. Cow’s milk products like butter and cheese contain a lot of stearic acid. This increases blood pressure. Animal fats also generally contain more saturated fatty acids than most vegetable fats. Saturated fatty acids increase cholesterol in the bloodstream – the so-called “bad cholesterol” that can lead to clogged blood vessels if present in excess. However, saturated fatty acids are also found in vegetable fats such as coconut fat or palm oil. Many ready-made products are too rich in fats that are not very healthy. You don’t have to avoid them completely, but you shouldn’t overdo it either.

Which fats are healthy?

We need unsaturated and omega fatty acids above all. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils such as rapeseed, olive or hemp oil, as well as in nuts and seeds, salmon and other fatty fish. However, many of these valuable oils are not heat-resistant. So they should not be used for frying, but enjoyed cold, for example in a salad dressing. At the same time, we need omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in larger quantities in poultry, butter or eggs. This is because omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are opposites. A good balance between the two supports wound healing. This is especially important for athletes: with every effort, small injuries occur unnoticed in muscle tissue and other structures.

What influence does sleep have on physical fitness?

Good sleep is of course absolutely crucial. During sleep, a great many regenerative processes take place throughout the body. For example, the fine tears in the muscles that always occur during sport are repaired, digestion is stimulated and growth hormones are released. If we sleep little or poorly, the hormones are imbalanced and the immune system is weakened, making us more susceptible to any infections. Sleep also has a great influence on the psyche: sleep disorders often lead to mood swings and a drop in motivation. They also reduce responsiveness and coordination – all functions that are important in running training.

So what should you do if you have had a bad night?

If you are really overtired, it is advisable not to train so intensively the following day. On the other hand, exercise also improves the quality of sleep. But if you have a tendency to sleep problems, you should not exercise shortly before going to bed, because this increases your stress level. It is better to lace up your running shoes earlier in the day.

So runners should keep their hands off everything that makes life pleasant?

It is certainly not necessary to do without anything at all. You should make sure that you feel good overall and stay relaxed. A party in between will probably not ruin the whole training effect. Everything should be done with moderation and common sense – after all, training should also be fun.


Who is Medbase?

Medbase is the largest multidisciplinary sports medicine network in Switzerland and offers specialised sports medicine services for athletes, clubs and sports associations at all levels of activity in the areas of sports medicine, sports physiotherapy, performance diagnostics and training advice.

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