Bye Bye Beer Belly:

My First BeerIt is New Year’s Eve – four months until the London Marathon 2010. I’m in the Railway (a pub in Blackheath, London) with 6 friends. At 11:59pm, I gulp down the remnants of my drink (a cold pint of some devilishly cheap lager) and count down to 1st January 2010. This marks the start of my London Marathon training. At 12:05am it’s my friend Jack’s round.

“Same again?”
“Actually, I’ll have a Jack Daniels and Diet Coke please.”

Jack isn’t the type of bloke that will ridicule me for my girly drink choice, but he does question it. So when I explain that my New Year’s resolution is to quit beer until I’ve crossed the finish line at the London Marathon, he is supportive. And then he orders himself and the guys a hefty round of beers, and I immediately regret my decision.

Cut to April 26th. I’ve just finished the marathon and I’m in a bar on Long Acre. Funnily enough, Jack is the one who is buying me my first pint. That’s it on the right. I get as far down as the dotted line and can’t drink anymore. Admittedly, it’s not the best choice of recovery drink, but after four months without beer I thought I’d have no trouble finishing a pint.

The simple fact was that I hadn’t missed beer all that much.

So what were my reasons for quitting? Truthfully, they were purely narcissistic. I was 25 and had a beer belly. And when the rest of your body is skinny, with no real definition, that belly is all the more obvious. So much so that I was uncomfortable wearing t-shirts and had mastered the art of sucking-in (a practice that required Zen-like concentration to maintain for more than an hour).

I think most people are aware that alcohol is fattening. But I’m not sure that everyone is aware as to the extent. A standard pint of bitter contains around 180 calories. According to an article in Men’s Health, you’d have to exercise for the equivalent of a 14-minute run to burn off those calories! Ergo, to burn off a boozy Friday night (coupled with a sneaky kebab), you’d have to run a half-marathon!

This, coupled with the fact that alcohol calories are completely useless, containing no nutrients at all (alcohol is actually a toxin), means that every single one of those calories is stored as fat. That’s roughly two thirds of the calories in every pint. Plus the rate at which these calories can be consumed is increased as they are in liquid form (especially when playing drinking games).

But how does drinking beer affect me as a runner?

Well, as alcohol is a diuretic, it depletes the electrolytes in your system. Electrolytes (like potassium and calcium) help with the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction. Without them runners are more susceptible to cramping and muscle spasm. We lose enough of these electrolytes through sweating alone when we run, hence the invention of sports drinks, so a hangover is seriously going to hinder performance. Another unpleasant side-effect of diuretics is dehydration.

There are, however, some advantages of beer consumption. A recent article in Triathlete’s World says that beer is a source of silicon, which helps to build bones and prevent osteoporosis (pale ales contains the most). Professor Manuel Garzon, of Granada University claims that beer after sport can be good for the body; the carb content of beer can help replace lost calories.

Old Habits...Here are the facts. In the four months without beer…

  1. I had lost a stone and a half in weight.
  2. My training significantly improved.
  3. I knocked 25 minutes off last year’s marathon time.
  4. My belly was noticeably flatter.

The truth is that it wasn’t that difficult to stop drinking beer. I just needed to break the habit. I still went out and socialised, still attended parties, still had the occasional tipple after work.  But, while drinking less fattening drinks like whisky, wine and vodka, I was distinctly more coherent, I remembered much more the next day and my running suffered much less as a result. I will confess that I did drink a pint and a half at one point during my abstinence. But this was a sincere accident; I simply forgot (routine got the better of me after a weekly game of football and I was half-way through my second before I realised what I was doing!).

I am now drinking beer again. I all-too-easily slipped back into my old drinking habits a month after the marathon. My belly is starting to return, I am noticeably more lary when drunk and remember almost nothing of the previous night when I wake up the following day. So bad is my memory loss that I actually (sometimes gingerly) have to ask my girlfriend if I embarrassed myself the night before. My running has also suffered. Admittedly, I have been running much less. But I feel twice as sluggish, heavy and sometimes uncomfortable.

So here it is, my big announcement. I have decided to stop drinking beer.

The health reasons are obvious. I’m diabetic, so I really shouldn’t be drinking the level of beer I do anyway. But how long will it be before the piss-taking from my beer-swilling buddies stops? How long before I crack under the (peer) pressure? Will my switch to wine or spirits make me less of a man? Is beer consumption directly related to testosterone levels?

Bottums up!

Bottoms Up!

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