The Impact of Alcohol on Performance

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Many athletes consume alcohol without any thought that it can have a negative impact on recovery and performance. It’s not uncommon after long hot training sessions to go share a cold beer with friends. However, the downside to this is that it can impact any gains the athlete may have made from the training.

Alcohol and Fitness.jpg_3

Celabrating with a few beers!

How Alcohol Challenges the Athlete’s Body:

  • Acts as powerful diuretic and interfering with rehydration.
  • Suppresses fat as a fuel source during exercise.
  • Interferes with post-exercise recovery by slowing down glycogen repletion and muscle repair.
  • Acts as an appetite stimulant which can result in consuming excess calories.
  • Increases risk for nutrient deficiencies by decreasing vitamin and mineral absorption.
  • Interferes with sleep patterns by reducing time spent in deep restful sleep cycles which in turn decreases growth hormones and increases cortisol.

Muscle gain can be affected as well. Though an athlete may be able go to sleep after drinking, the deep sleep pattern is lacking.  Alcohol is destructive on deep sleep.  This disruption in deep sleep interferes with the release of testosterone and growth hormones which are vital for muscle growth and slowing your body’s ability to heal.

Not only does alcohol have a dehydrating affect it also interferes with the production of energy. When alcohol is metabolized it reduces the production of ATP (muscles source of energy), resulting in lack of energy and loss of endurance.

How Alcohol Affects the Nutrition Status of an Athlete:

Ever feel tired and unmotivated after a night of drinking or even a day or two later? Alcohol holds very little nutritional value. The calories in alcohol are not available to your muscles. Because your body isn’t designed to store alcohol the body treats alcohol as fat. Alcohol can slow down the amount of calories and fat you’re able to burn during exercise, therefore, increasing % body fat.

Alcohol use inhibits absorption of important nutrients such as thiamin, vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc. These vitamins are vital for a healthy immune system and converting food to energy.

  • Thiamin (B1) is involved in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, fat and the formation of hemoglobin.
  • Vitamin B12 is essential to maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells.
  • Folic acid is part of a coenzyme involved in the formation of new cells.
  • Zinc is essential to your energy metabolic processes. The depletion of zinc can have an effect on reducing endurance.

Alcohol and Fitness

Advice for Athletes:

Although it may not be realistic to eliminate the use of alcohol altogether, athletes need to consider the effects on performance and their general health.

The American College of Sports Medicine advises:

  • Pre-event: Avoid alcohol beyond low-amount social drinking for 48 hours.
  • Post-exercise: Rehydrate first and consume food to retard any alcohol absorption.
  • Alcohol should be avoided by athletes who are suffering with an injury, because it slows the repair process.

Bottom line is everything in moderation, but be aware of the impact of things you put into your body!

Sports Med. 2014 Jul;44(7):909-19. Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Barnes.

Nutrients. 2010 Aug; 2(8): 781–789. Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery Luke D. Vella and David Cameron-Smith.

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