Beer and Baseball at Your Next BBQ? Not so Fast!


By Joy Stephenson-Young, JD, Founder

If you’re like 90 percent of Americans who are drinkers, you will likely be planning to enjoy your favorite distilled beverage while you are outdoors (especially now that it’s summer). And, according to research, the most popular venue by far for outdoor drinking is, hands down, the barbecue with a favorite vote of some 65 percent. The other 35 percent like imbibing at picnics, pool parties, summer festivals and outdoor concerts.

Another staple of outdoor events is taking part in friendly sporting activities, with one of the most popular being softball or baseball, along with frisbee, quoits and volleyball. I’m sure you and your friends have others that you enjoy, probably including swimming, tennis or maybe even the ubiquitous three-legged races or badminton.  

But no matter which physical activity you, your family and friends enjoy outdoors, they all have a few things in common...  

These activities make you sweat, thirsty and hungry. They may give you sore muscles if you’re not in good shape and probably wear you out a bit.

And another thing many of these activities have in common is having a cold beer or other alcoholic drinks afterward (or often during) to cool down, quench your thirst and enhance the overall comradery and enjoyment of your favorite game.

What could possibly be wrong with this?  

The answer, unfortunately, is “more than you think.”

Physical Activity and Alcohol Don’t Mix!

Whether it’s beer, wine, a pre-made canned cocktail or a mixed drink, imbibing right after physical activity, or during it, can wreak havoc on your body and negate the physical benefits of the activity you enjoy. In more extreme situations, it could cause you a trip to the ER for unplanned, emergency medical care.  

These are because of the effects even a moderate amount of alcohol can have on your body, some of which are magnified by being out in the hot sun or engaging in strenuous physical activity.

They include the following: 

  • Accelerated Dehydration

At some point, you may have been told that alcohol does not really dehydrate you. This is simply not true! Alcohol can and does dehydrate you! It, along with other beverages such as coffee that you may have at your barbecue, has a diuretic effect on your body.

This basically means it will cause your body to eliminate more water than it should.  

In one study, when drinks containing 4 percent alcohol were ingested following exercise, there was an increase in urine output and a delay in the recovery rate of blood volume.

And if it’s hot or humid, you will lose even more fluid through sweating. In addition to the other risks of dehydration, alcohol also reduces blood volume. This, in turn, makes it harder to get oxygen and fuel to your muscles. One possible side effect of this reduced blood volume is muscle cramps - the famous “Charley horse” that afflicts so many weekend athletes.

How serious is dehydration?  

Well, water is one of the critical nutrients you need to live and the only nutrient whose absence will cause death within days. Death, of course, is an extreme consequence of dehydration. The majority of us – up to 75 percent by some reports – are dehydrated to some extent, and we don’t even know it. So, when you add in sweating from playing ball along with the dehydrating effect of alcohol, it’s no wonder you hear about people fainting or getting sick at an outdoor event (and we’re not talking about from the food, either). 

  • Decreased Muscle/Physical Performance

If you are drinking while playing, your muscles won’t be able to recover in “real time” and you’ll notice that your performance will start to deteriorate faster than it would than if you were just getting tired and not drinking. So that slide into home plate that was so easy in the first inning won’t be so easy after a couple of beers. Your muscles also won’t be able to use glucose to make energy as efficiently as when you have no alcohol in your system, so you’ll probably get tired more easily. Neither situation will help you win the game.

  • Slower Recovery from Injuries

The impact of drinking alcohol during or right after playing sports lasts longer than your barbecue will. In addition to affecting how well – and how long – you play, it also makes post-exercise recovery a lot harder by slowing down your body’s own natural repair processes. It does this by inhibiting the ability of specific hormones – such as testosterone – to do their jobs.

But the damage doesn’t end there...  

If you have any soft tissue injuries – let’s say you twist an ankle in the three-legged race or get hit by a ball – alcohol consumption may greatly delay recovery. And, since alcohol has the effect of dilating your blood vessels, you’ll probably have worse swelling where you’re injured than you otherwise would have had.  

  • Sleep Disturbances 

There also is research that indicates drinking alcohol after physical exertion can make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep. This lack of sleep, of course, will leave you tired and make it harder for your body to recuperate from that last tennis set.  

  • Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Problems

Recent research also suggests that drinking after strenuous physical activity can increase your risk of unusual heart rhythms. It also can inhibit clotting factors that are especially important after exercise. So, one potential risk of drinking during or right after that horseshoe toss is an increased risk of blood clots. If you happen to have heart disease or if you’re at risk for developing clots, keep this in mind before you reach for that wine cooler after any strenuous activity at the company picnic.

The good news is we can be proactive and still have fun this summer.  

Rehydrate, Replenish, Wait, Partake

To enjoy both the sporting activities during your next outdoor festivities and the post-game libations, here are some pretty easy steps to remember and follow.

  • Wait – Since your body only needs about half an hour to do most of the recuperation and muscle repair it needs after your softball game, wait about 30 – 45 minutes before enjoying that much-deserved beer. During that time, you should rehydrate.
  • Rehydrate – It’s critical to replace those fluids that you lost during your physical activity through sweating and your body’s own metabolism. This is important even if you don’t necessary feel “thirsty” since, for many people, their perceived level of thirst is not necessarily an accurate indicator of their hydration levels. While water is, of course, the best way to rehydrate, you can also try coconut water, the clear liquid that comes from the inside of the coconut. Or “eat” your water by hitting the cucumber salad, watermelon or other fruits and vegetables offered at the barbecue.  
  • Replenish – In addition to losing fluids, physical activity also depletes your body’s store of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins and electrolytes, all of which you need in order to adequately recuperate. To help replace these, consider sports drinks, chocolate milk and even non-alcoholic beer. Make sure to read the labels, however, since many sports drinks are loaded with sugar.  

By waiting a bit before having an alcoholic beverage and replenishing fluids and nutrients you may have sweated out during your softball game, you can help to ensure you are protecting your health and performing better at whatever outdoor activity you choose.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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