As athletes and health enthusiasts we dedicate a huge amount of time and energy to improving our performance. This can be through various methods such as training, technology, equipment, coaching and nutrition. After all the hard work and gains, it can be common to look for a reward for effort, and often that can include the consumption of alcohol. So, one or two drinks won’t hurt right because everything is OK moderation? Let’s look at the affect of alcohol on your body so you can decide whether that cheeky brew really is worth it…
how does alcohol affect your body?
Everyone is different and therefore alcohol can have varying effects on individuals depending on their metabolism, physiology, and level of alcohol intake. However, we know that in the short-term alcohol can reduce your motor skills, hydration status, aerobic performance, and recovery from exercise.
In the long term, the consumption of alcohol can make it difficult to maintain a healthy body weight, it can depress your immune system and can predispose you to nutritional deficiencies, injuries, and long-term health risks such as liver disease and cancer.
Alcohol and hydration
Adequate hydration is the key to peak performance, as we know dehydration has a negative impact on physical performance. Mild dehydration can also lead to lowered mood, increased fatigue, and a decline in your ability to think clearly.
Alcohol can have a dehydrating effect on the body as it is a powerful diuretic, which means it increases the loss of fluids and electrolytes from your body. As an athlete the effect of dehydration will be an increased risk of injuries such as cramping and muscle strains along with reduced performance and decision making.
Alcohol and nutrition
Your muscles can’t use alcohol for energy in the way it uses other macros such as carbs, fat, and protein. The energy from alcohol is converted into fatty acids and is stored in your fat tissue which means it can be difficult to maintain a healthy body weight if you are consuming excessive alcohol.
Alcohol has limited nutritional value, and at the same time it can reduce your body’s consumption of other nutrients such at Vit B1, B12, Folate and Zinc – all nutrients which are vital for your peak performance as an athlete.
Alcohol and sleep
Have you ever had a few drinks in the evening and then woken at 2am and struggled to get back to sleep? Alcohol disrupts your deep, restorative sleep which can have negative effects on your recovery, energy levels, mood, and performance.
Exercising with a hangover
A hangover can be a combination of horrible symptoms which vary in each person; however, it is generally related to a combination of electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar levels, gastric irritation, and fatigue due to lack of sleep.
While it is common for athletes to ‘sweat out’ a hangover, bear in mind that it can result in over 10% reduction in your aerobic capacity and increase your chance of illness and injury, particularly relating to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Alcohol after exercise
The aim of the recovery window after exercise is to replenish fluids, electrolytes, and glycogen stores and to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Choosing alcohol within the recovery window can be detrimental to fluid replenishment because of its diuretic effect. Even beer with some carbohydrate content doesn’t contain enough to benefit glycogen stores. In fact, alcohol can indirectly displace carbohydrate and protein intake which results in a prolonged recovery period. This means you may not be recovered adequately for the next training session and may not get the muscle gains from the training that was completed.
Alcohol and injuries
When injured, your body will deploy its own anti-inflammatory response to begin the recovery process, however alcohol can interfere with this natural response. Alcohol can also dilate veins, which results in increased blood flow to injuries and prolongs recovery and potentially increase the severity of the injury. Using alcohol is essentially like the opposite of icing an injury.
What are the recommendations for alcohol and sport?
If you are physically active and you want to reach your peak performance, take the above points into consideration which planning your training and nutrition strategies. The effects of alcohol can vary dramatically between individuals, however aerobic performance is likely to be reduced with excessive alcohol consumption. All athletes are encouraged to follow nutrition and re-hydration guidelines both before and after training and events to maximise their performance and recovery. This includes starting all sessions well hydrated and the use of a balanced electrolyte mix such as Bindilyte can be beneficial in ensuring you are well hydrated.