Vitamin C can reduce alcohol-induced performance dip

Alcohol and sport don’t go well together. A training session done after drinking alcohol is by definition a bad training session – and for every year that you age, the negative effect of alcohol on performance increases. According to a French animal study, published in 1980 in Behavioural Brain Research, vitamin C supplementation reduces the negative effect of alcohol on athletic performance.

The researchers, who worked at the Laboratoire de Physiologie Acoustique in Jouy-en-Josas, gave mice a hefty dose of alcohol, then put them in an aquarium an hour later and recorded how long they managed to stay afloat. They compared the length of time with that of mice that had not been given alcohol.

The researchers also gave some of the mice vitamin C [structural formula shown here]. Vitamin C is acidic, so mice won’t drink it voluntarily. That’s why the researchers injected the vitamin directly into the rats’ small intestine. This form of administration imitates the effect of oral administration.

The figure below shows that higher doses of vitamin C reduced the negative effect of alcohol on performance. The human equivalent of the ineffective dose would be about half a gram – for someone weighing 80 kg. The human equivalent of the effective doses tried would be about 1000 and 4000 mg.


In another experiment the researchers administered the vitamin an hour before giving the mice alcohol. The vitamin C worked less well when given in this way, as the figure below shows. Only the highest dose softened the negative effect of alcohol on performance.


In yet another experiment, the researchers waited not 1 but 2 hours until they got the mice to swim. In this set up the vitamin C also worked less well.


In a fourth experiment the researchers first gave the mice vitamin C, then gave them alcohol 1 hour later, and got them to swim 2 hours later. The protective effect of vitamin C was even less strong in this set up.


“The results clearly show that vitamin C in various concentrations can exert a powerful protection against the intoxicating effects of alcohol as measured by a swimming test”, wrote the researchers.

The negative effect of alcohol is probably the work of the alcohol metabolite acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages tissue, including muscle tissue, but it seems that vitamin C can to some extent limit this damage. Going by the results of this animal study, you could speculate that athletes who have drunk alcohol will train better if they take one gram of quickly absorbed vitamin C an hour before their workout.

Antagonistic effect of sodium ascorbate on ethanol-induced changes in swimming of mice.


Swimming behavior in the mouse was used to study the motor disturbances induced by alcohol, and the effects of vitamin C upon these disturbances were assessed. High doses of vitamin C (125 and 500 mg/kg) prevented any swimming impairment due to ethanol; however, lower doses of vitamin C (62.5 mg/kg) had no significant effect. When given 1 h before alcohol, the protective effect of vitamin C was reduced. The alcohol-induced intoxication lasted beyond alcohol’s elimination from the blood, suggesting that the intoxication is maintained by a metabolite of ethanol or by an effect of ethanol, or a metabolite, on another metabolic system.

PMID: 7295384 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]