Surf Performance and Alcohol: What You Need to Know

By Greg Finch


Alcohol and Surf Performance: Scotch glass

Alcohol & Surf Performance how does one effect the other? Before I get into that I want to define the scope here. This is about consumption of alcohol as it relates to caloric intake and the bodies metabolism of those specific calories. This is not about dependence or abuse. That topic needs a completely different article and priorities.

A balanced lifestyle is critical to sustainable change and progress. If you focus on moderation not restriction that allows for the enjoyment of life while still progressing to your goals.

By the way everything is moderation including moderation (Sometimes you've gotta let loose in this world).

Prioritize a balance and you will more often than not prioritize health. Whether it be in nutrition, training, enjoyment, or consumption. One of the main difficulties is defining what moderation is, for you. More importantly continuing to evaluate and reset that definition.

Having recently gone through a Detox Challenge (No sugar, alcohol, grains, carbs, or coffee) it really helped to reset what moderation really means. Amounts can creep up slowly and get hugely out of whack if you don't test and retest them.

So without further ado, let's talk a bit about our friend "Mr. alcohol".

Alcohol and Performance - What You Need To Know

One question that often presents itself to many athletes who are trying to add strength and endurance is whether or not alcohol can be included in their nutrition plan.

Alcohol is something that many adults do like to indulge in from time to time - some more often than others.

So what's the real deal about alcohol and your progress? Is this something that you can make room for in your nutrition or is it something that you need to give the boot?

Alcohol And Calories

The very first thing that you need to take note of is how many calories are found in alcohol. Alcohol itself contains seven calories per gram, whereas both proteins and carbs contain just four. Fat comes in at the highest caloric value per gram at nine, which places alcohol right in the middle.

But what's often worse is what the alcohol is mixed with. If you're drinking your alcohol with high calorie or fat mixers such as cream, sodas, or sugary mixers you could easily end up with a drink that packs in well over 300 calories per serving.

If you take in three or four of these over the course of the night, it's really going to add up.

Now if you are surfing multiple sessions a day for a couple hours each these extra calories are being burnt right out. Excess caloric consumption is not really the problem in this situation.

The problem arises when the swell goes flat and your activity level also flatlines. Add to this more responsibilities (Work, family, etc) and the hours available to surf goes way down.

80 / 20 Rule

Let's not fool ourselves alcohol is in no way optimum. The quality of the calories from alcohol suck! But if you have well balanced and nutritious meals in your day you're going to be alright. 

Think of it as the 80 / 20 rule. If you are very physically active (The multiple hours surf sessions most days I mentioned) and your nutrition is great 80% of the time the other 20% will be tolerable in your health and surf performance.

Built within an intermittent fasting structure with a minimum of 16 hours of fasting and the 80 / 20 rule becomes even more powerful.

There are many other variables in the end result of total health and performance. But a majority of us will be alright a majority of the time within the 80 / 20 rule.

Remember though: Alright is just Alright

Alcohol And Fat Metabolism

kid surfing by body boarder

The second important thing that you need to note is the impact that alcohol consumption will have on your fat metabolism. The minute that you put alcohol into your body, all fat burning is going to come to a halt.

Your body views alcohol as a toxin and as such, as soon as it comes in, it's going to do everything it can to rid itself of this alcohol. No further fat will be burned off until it's out of your system.

Only then will you start burning up body fat again. So if you consume quite a bit of alcohol one night, you can expect to see your rate of fat loss drop off for a more significant period of time.

This next one is where your surf performance is going to suffer, BIG TIME!

Surf Performance Recovery and Alcohol

Finally, the last important thing to note about alcohol consumption is the impact it will have on your recovery rates. This is the #1 effect I stress to all my Surf Performance clients in regards to alcohol.

Surfer going left with sunset behind them

In a study through Massey university in New Zealand Michael J. Barnes found that

"In general, acute alcohol consumption, at the levels often consumed by athletes, may negatively alter normal immunoendocrine function, blood flow and protein synthesis so that recovery from skeletal muscle injury may be impaired.  Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes

In addition to putting the brakes on all fat burning taking place in the body, as Mr. Barnes finds in his study, the second thing that alcohol is going to put the brakes on is protein synthesis.

This means that no further lean muscle tissue will be built up as long as that alcohol is in the body. Essentially alcohol is poison to your body and the primal brain and body will react accordingly by stopping every other function it can to prioritize getting the poison out of the system.

Again, you can imagine what this is going to do to your Surf Performance goals.

Common Scenario

You have a strong morning session, then hit the gym at noon to focus on balance and lower body plyometric strength, another afternoon session, and then out with some buddies that evening. But instead of just 1 or 2 quality drinks you tie one on and have over 5.

What's going to happen is: Besides probably feeling like shit the next morning

  • Your body is going to ramp up and focus on purging that alcohol from your system.
  • All the muscle tissue that you broke down the day before is going to be delayed in its recovery and you miss out on building more lean strength. Specifically in the muscle systems that benefit your surfing most directly.
  • The excess calories you put in your body are going to stay right where they are for now. Repeat this to many times and you will start carrying extra fat pounds.
  • Lastly and where the alcohol compounds the problems listed above is if you even get your ass out of bed to surf the next morning your strength, balance, & endurance are going to be crap and your performance is going to be crap too.
  • When you start stringing crappy sessions together the physical, mental, & spiritual aspects of your surfing are going to be hugely and negatively impacted. THIS CAN SNOWBALL and you can get to a place where at best surfing is more difficult and at the worst dangerous.

Sum Up Surf Performance and Alcohol

If you want to be successful with your Surf Performance Program, it's best if you forgo alcohol, especially in the beginning of a new program. One drink every now and then may not hurt all that much, but if you're taking in any more than this, it will definitely hinder the progress that you see.

After you have established the new program, made progress, and really set your new positive habits then negative influences like alcohol will have less of a negative impact.

Like most aspects within your Surf Performance and overall health and wellness:

  • Evaluate then reevaluate

  • Test then retest

Play the long game in your Surf Program and your life. That means looking out to the horizon of your life to better understand where you want to go and then really commit to the day, the moment, the wave that you are on.

That day, moment, and this wave is the only thing that matters in positive progress, change, and life.

Greg Finch - Surf Performance Coach

Greg Finch

He is a father, husband, trainer, entrepreneur, and surfer.


He is much more enjoyable to be around after a good surf & finds writing in the third person hilarious.

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