Processing Alcohol


Experience From - Karl King , Rich Schick , Jeff Bristow , Chip Marz , Harry Strohm

Karl king

Jim Benike asked:

"Can the body process alcohol faster when running? Does the liver process the alcohol at a set rate or is it related to blood flow/volume? The practical application: If I ran from a bar to my house instead of taking a taxi ,will I arrive home sober?"

Alcohol is detoxified in the liver by a two step process. First, the ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde via the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. The acetaldehyde is converted to harmless acetate via the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase. The second step is most important because acetaldehyde is five times more toxic than ethanol.

The process should be sped up by running with increased blood flow and higher temperature. That assumes that the body is not dehydrated, and the pace is not blistering ( reducing blood flow to the liver ).

Nutrients which can help in the processing of alchohol are the B vitamins ( B1, B2 and B3 ) vitamin C, and chrome picolinate. Those are most effective if taken *before* drinking. Once you've overdone the alcohol, you're going to suffer some no matter what you take.

Since alcohol speeds up the passage of water through the kidneys, it is important to drink plenty of water to replace what will be lost.

Eating food will also help with alcohol processing. Dumping booze into an empty stomach is not a good idea.

Running after drinking is not going to make a major difference in sobriety unless you run for a long time, as Matt noted. If you want to arrive home sober from the bar, the best course is to not drink much in the first place.

Rich Schick

I have to disagree with Karl on this one -- spent some time looking around on the net as well as pulling out some physiology and medical texts. What I found is as follows. The liver can only process alcohol so fast, the rate is not effected by the rate of blood flow because the liver can only process alcohol at a fixed rate, no matter how much alcohol is present. I thought maybe the increased rate of breathing might be an arguable factor but turns out that has also been explored. In attempting to hasten the metabolism of alcohol in individuals dying or very severely intoxicated it was found that putting them on pure oxygen and forcing an increased respiratory rate had no significantimpact on the rate of alcohol metabolism.

On the down side are good studies that show that alcohol impairs both glucose and free fatty acid metabolism during and in the post exercise period. In other words it will make you run slower and recover slower. It also impairs heart function but this appears to be to minimal effect that only significant in the cardiac lab results.

Jeff Bristow

On the subject of running and alcohol, I have noticed a couple of things. First, after a few drinks, I have had some great runs. Best I can figure, the alcohol calorie boost falls into the cells and works in some peculiar way. I also noticed that the best runs followed a late night - before going to sleep - H2O binge. In other words whenever I had enough sense to drink plenty of water before I went to bed I woke up feeling a lot better and actually ran quite well. Recently I discovered that a large amount of Gatorade before sleep helps even more.

Race morning, another quart of thirst quencher and water throughout the run seems to make the whole experience work.

Chip Marz

Before I respond, let me make my disclaimer: For those who want to tell me of the error of my ways...don't bother, I already know, and have made a life choice.

HASHERS drink & run and run & drink all the time. And, we even have to think! We have to follow the trail that our "hares" have laid, and often these are confusing trails, not easy to follow like 100 milers! At least HASH trails are shorter!!

I do think that running will speed up the burning off of the alcohol...too a point. Do keep in mind, tho, that alcohol is a diuretic, and can contribute to dehydration, if one runs long enough.

Usually, the night before a race, including ultras, I will have a few beers and socialize with other runners. Only once can I recall "having had too much." That was before the Strolling Jim a few years ago. Race day morning, it was tough to get up, and my head hurt a little, but I actually ran a good race! Didn't set any PR, but that was probably more attributable to the 125 miler I'd run only two weeks earlier.

Having basically taken the position that "a few drinks in moderation" before an ultra is OK, dehydration CAN be a problem, and some additional attention does need to be paid to fluid intake during the race.

Harry Strohm

my experence with alcohol has been during races, I very seldom have more than one beer before a run, but from about the 20 mile mark on I do like to have a very small amount of beer, about 2 oz very three to five miles. I combine that with lots of water and as much food as I can eat. The only effect seems to be that I start running a little more relaxed then before. It has never seem to hurt me. Of course I am so slow that it is hard to tell.

Of course on a lot of runs there is very little beer available and in National and most State Parks it is Illegal. That is one reason, I enjoy Louisiana runs, they always seem to have beer available.