Where it used to be the case that hydrating for a tournament, competition or major sporting race simply meant taking sips of water, now you can take your pick at all manner of sports drinks. From those boasting electrolytes, to “smart” water infused with protein (a head scratcher to say the least), there’s even coconut water and the kind of drinks that will turn your piss blue for a day or three. Still, even regardless of the choices at our disposal, few things come close to matching the feeling of a cold one after the game. From professionals to the amateurs, sinking a cold beer is practically a cool down to be respected.
While it’s long been thought that those who exercise regularly hold some kind of health authority over their peers, sipping only their own DIY kombucha and eating every available green vegetable in the supermarket, the fact is that alcohol continues to be present in such active lives. In fact, many studies conducted over the years have found a link between exercise and drinking, suggesting that those who exercise a lot also tend to drink more. Now, a new study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise from a research team at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, found a strong, often overlooked, link between exercise and alcohol habits.
Whereas other studies focused on competitive athletes or college teams where high levels of alcohol consumption could be attributed to frat parties or hazing rituals, this study collected data from 38,000 healthy patients ranging in age from 20 to 86 who underwent preventive testing at the Clinic. Their cardiorespiratory fitness was estimated with a treadmill test to exhaustion and, based on the results, they were then divided into five equal groups based on their age and sex-adjusted scores. The lowest group was classified as low fitness, then moderate fitness, and so on. For alcohol consumption, those consuming three or fewer drinks per week were considered light drinkers; up to seven for women and 14 for men was moderate; and above that was heavy.
The study found that moderately and highly fit people were far more likely to be moderate or heavy drinkers than less fit people. As Outside reports, “For women, being highly fit more than doubled the odds of being a moderate or heavy drinker. For men, it increased the odds by 63 per cent.”
It’s important to note though, that these weren’t professional or college athletes, but just fit amateurs. So why would they drink so much? As it turns out, the study’s authors suggest it may be due to a psychological phenomenon called the licensing effect, in which they do a good behaviour that permits them to reward themselves by then doing something “bad” - i.e. drinking a beer.
In another study form University of Houston, researcher Leigh Leasure linked exercise and drinking behaviour to higher levels of sensation-seeking. Leasure went on to find that when it comes to exercise and alcohol, the two tend to exist in a cycle of work hard-play hard, celebration, body image, and guilt. With this in mind, exercise leads to drink in the former two, and then drinking leads to exercise.
Ultimately, drinking is always going to be an intensely personal choice and for some, their relationship with alcohol will always be more complex than others. But it’s worth noting that even science regards a link between exercise and drinking and our desire to reward ourselves with something “bad” for the good, hard work we do.