Red Wine Runners
PERFORMANCE is all about understanding limits. As a runner you already probably know that just because that half-hour run felt good last night doesn’t mean three times that total will provide the same warm feeling tonight.
So with that thought firmly secure in your mind – remember, more is not necessarily better; 25 miles a week is great, 180 is not – let me reveal the benefits of red wine to you. There is some research emerging that suggests moderate consumption offers some real health benefits from the effects a cholesterol-fighting antioxidant has to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Red wine is also full of flavonoids which are anti-oxidants that lower the risk of heart disease.
More experienced runners out there will now be formulating a counter-argument that suggests the dehydrating effects of this wine (and coffee!) will be detrimental to your performance. After all, as little as a 2 per cent loss in water will result in a measurable decrease in performance (see our article on how much to drink). That means if you lose a pound or two in sweat during your run you’ll slow down by many minutes, not ideal on race day! It’s that small a margin. Well, let me stop you right there on that one! "Initially, alcohol can dehydrate you, but over the course of 24 hours, alcohol no longer has a dehydrating effect," Nancy Clark, R.D., a sports nutritionist told a US magazine. “As long as runners who are accustomed to drinking wine are drinking extra water and taking in other carbohydrates," said Clark, "one glass of wine with dinner the night before a race doesn't concern me." It is worth noting, however, that it will dehydrate you initially and can be harmful in hot weather.
Essentially, however, it’s all encouraging news. Red wine increases ‘good’ cholesterol levels and thereby prevents ‘bad’ cholesterol clogging arteries; it’s not as dehydrating as first believed; its anti-oxidants are great for your heart and once I went on a long distance running training camp with a certain Paula Radcliffe of marathon world record fame and she drank a glass a night.
The catch? Remember that number; one glass a night. Not two, not a bottle, and certainly not a bender with your mates into the wee small hours. And it would be amiss of me not to mention the disastrous effects alcohol can have. For instance, it increases your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and various tumours, such as breast and colorectal cancer. Even small amounts increase your risk of cancer, as there is no “safe” dose and light drinking does not protect you at all in this case. Overconsumption leads to violence and accidents. The end result is a J-shaped relationship between alcohol and overall mortality, whereby light drinking increases your chances of a long life and heavy drinking reduces it.
Of course, I understand as runners we love to put all this to the test, so I have just the race for you – the Medoc Marathon in September. In it you’ll run the traditional 26.2 miles through the wonderfully scenic vineyards in the Medoc region of France. The only difference between this race and say, the London Marathon, is the beverage supplied at the race’s feeding stations. It is wine, not water or energy drinks. You’ll sample famed vintages en route, while also stuffing yourself with local specialities such as oysters, foie gras, cheese, steak and ice-cream rather than energy gel or bananas. Enjoy!