BLOG OF THE WEEK!
Many of us like the occasional frosty beer or glass of red wine (or margarita, or martini, or Moscow Mule). And while science says not all alcohol is bad (moderate drinking can even be good for our health), is that truly the case for athletes? Does alcohol impact your fitness, and should you give up the booze in favor of biceps?
Alcohol and Your Body
It’s no secret that alcohol impacts your body, your brain, and even your demeanor. After all, isn’t that why most of us drink? To lose our inhibitions, feel more relaxed, and forget about the day’s stress?
However, as athletes, alcohol has many unwanted consequences on our bodies and minds. Even one drink could undo an entire day’s hard-fought workout.
A research study out of Deakin University in Australia examined the impacts of alcohol on athletic performance. Here’s what they found:
Alcohol can impact your strength output and can also lead to muscle cramping during workouts. Alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol use can also cause a loss of muscle awareness and muscle use. It also impacts our ability to gain and maintain muscle tone.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning when you drink, your body increases its output of urine. That’s bad news for athletes as you’ll likely dehydrate more quickly. Alcohol also affects temperature regulation, leading to trouble if you’re working out in extreme heat or cold.
Your major organs take the brunt of alcohol’s impacts. When you drink, your body filters out toxic chemicals in alcohol. Your liver is the main workhorse in this operation, and therefore often sees the most damage. Whether over long periods of time or in an acute setting, heavy drinking can significantly damage your liver, sometimes leading to irreversible damage like cirrhosis or liver failure.
But alcohol impacts your other organs, too. Your pancreas can become inflamed. Your heart experiences stress, putting you at an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and an irregular heartbeat. And as if that’s not enough, alcohol use increases your risk of certain cancers.
We all know that one too many drinks makes our brains a bit foggy. For athletes, there’s more to it than just, shall we say, questionable choices and a bad hangover.
Alcohol impacts our brains in a myriad of ways, one being our balance and body awareness. And while you might not be attempting a Turkish Getup while inebriated (at least, we hope you’re not), alcohol can continue to impact your performance even after you’ve sobered up.
Alcohol’s Impacts on Athletic Performance
The Deakin University study concludes that acute alcohol use isn’t wholly detrimental to athletic performance. However, the study raised enough questions to give many athletes pause.
The impacts on our organs aside, alcohol is full of sugar and empty calories. Plus, alcohol slows our metabolism and decreases our ability to burn fat. Together, that’s a recipe for weight gain. And while that’s certainly not a deal-breaker for many people (after all, we think ALL bodies are beautiful), it can be a real issue for elite athletes.
Finally, alcohol use can also impact your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from healthy foods. That means your carefully-crafted diet could be all for naught if you spend your evenings drinking.
Should You Quit Drinking?
That’s a complicated question and one that can only be answered by each person individually.
There is evidence that moderate drinking (just one drink for women or two for men a day) can positively impact your health. Just one beer or glass of wine a day can reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke, raise your good cholesterol, and reduce your risk of diabetes. However, moderation can be difficult for some alcohol drinkers, and more than one drink a day leads to the adverse side effects seen above.
While moderate drinking might be beneficial for some people, even one drink a day might be too much for athletes.
Long-distance runner and writer Patty Hodapp talks about her decision to give up drinking in her article How Cutting Out Booze Boosted My Fitness. In her article, Hodapp addresses the slow weight gain and performance loss her alcohol use ultimately caused. Once she stopped drinking, however, she began losing weight and improving her performance, and she noticed increased energy.
There is a growing trend towards sobriety, with many CrossFit athletes avoiding alcohol. But there are others who don’t think alcohol impacts their performance at all. It’s a personal choice that each athlete must make for themselves.
Still, science suggests that indulging too much could hurt your performance, impact muscle gains, and lead to significant health problems down the line. For many, that’s enough reason to take a step back and reconsider.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has an alcohol dependency problem, please don’t wait. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at their toll-free helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).