by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD
Alcohol & Runners
Yet, celebrating wins with alcohol is perceived as the norm. Whether runners feel pressure to celebrate with alcohol or they just enjoy drinking, research shows serious recreational runners drink more than their sedentary counterparts, and college athletes binge-drink more than non-athletes. Unfortunately, alcohol is a highly addictive substance and is the most abused drug in the United States.
What can be done about this problem?
To address alcohol abuse among student-athletes, many college campuses are educating students about social norms—the beliefs about what is normal and expected in social situations. For example, despite popular belief, everyone does not drink nor do most students get drunk all the time.
A survey at Southern Methodist University asked these questions to students on a Friday about alcohol use on the previous night:
Did you drink last night?
Did you get drunk last night?
What percentage of SMU students do you think drank last night?
What percentage of SMU students do you think got drunk last night?
The answers showed major misperceptions about alcohol norms:
• Only 20% of students surveyed reported drinking the previous night, yet they believed that over half drank.
• Only 8% reported getting drunk, yet they believed at least one-third got drunk.
• Of students who drank, most reported consuming only a few drinks per week. Yet they believed most students were drinking 10 to 15 drinks per week.
• 35% reported abstaining from alcohol, but very few believed that many of their peers were non-drinkers.
At Dartmouth College, a typical social norms statement might be 74% of Dartmouth drinkers have zero to 4 drinks on the average Friday night. That means, not “everyone” is drinking, and binge-drinking is NOT the norm! With ongoing social norm education, students will hopefully change their drinking practices. Given that athletes are often role models, reduced alcohol use among athletes can potentially have a positive widespread social benefit.
Minimizing negative consequences
If alcohol has a big role in your sports diet, take note:
Is there any good news about alcohol?
Yes! In moderation, alcohol can have health benefits. Red wine, for example, contains health-protective phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of heart disease. A drink before a meal might improve digestion. A drink with friends brings social pleasure.
When it comes to alcohol, the key word is moderation. Moderation means two drinks per day for men and one for women. To help enforce moderation, first quench your thirst with a non-alcoholic beverage, and then, if desired, choose the alcohol-laden option.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and Food Guide for Marathoners are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. For workshops, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.