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Let’s Talk About Alcohol!

By November 2, 2017 December 28th, 2018 No Comments

Many of my clients, especially those that are college-aged ask me about alcohol.  Specifically, they want to know does alcohol negatively affect their athletic performance and/or body composition.  The simple answer is yes.  We’ll talk about why and how below.  But first, let’s talk about alcohol in general. 

Personally, I drink alcohol, socially.  At this point in my life I have one or two drinks a couple nights a week; whether it’s trying a new beer with my husband or a night out with girlfriends.  What is it about alcohol that is so intriguing?  Many use it as a reward or a way to unwind after a long day at work.  Others like the way it allows them to let loose and forget about their worries for a while; while others very much enjoy the taste of specific drinks (Moscow mule, anyone).  For the general public, sitting down with a glass of wine a couple nights a week is perfectly acceptable.  In fact, some research suggests that regular consumption of moderate amounts of wine may protect against certain health conditions. 

But what about athletes or people that have specific body composition goals?  What role does alcohol play?  Even for athletes, alcohol can be part of a well-chosen diet for social interactions; but where athletes run into trouble is when alcohol misuse becomes an issue.  Here are some of the immediate effects athletes will feel with overuse of alcohol:

  • Muscle function – alcohol ingestion can cause increased pain, cramps, and loss of proprioception; or the body’s ability to sense itself.
  • Hydration – alcohol is a natural diuretic, because it causes the kidneys to produce and excrete more urine; causing dehydration.   Alcohol also acts as a peripheral vasodilator, meaning it causes increased fluid loss via evaporation, or sweating.  Alcohol has also been shown to cause a decrease in core body temperature, as the thermoregulatory mechanisms are being altered; which causes decreased work output and tolerance to activity in extreme temperatures.
  • Body composition – many studies have linked alcohol consumption with overall and central obesity in both men and women.  This may be due to the calorie load of alcohol (7 kcal per gram), the unplanned food consumption that sometimes increases with drinking, and the fact that alcohol suppresses lipid or fat oxidation.
  • Recovery – alcohol may negatively affect proper recovery post exercise by impairing glycogen storage, slowing rates of rehydration due to its diuretic effect, and impairing muscle protein synthesis.
  • Strength – alcohol consumption reduces rates of muscle protein synthesis post-exercise and suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle, which can impair recovery and adaptation to training and performance.
  • Sleep – even though you feel like you’re getting great sleep, alcohol actually decreases REM sleep, which causes abnormalities in hormone (i.e. metabolic hormones decrease and stress hormones increase).

We should all know that there are several long-term effects of continued alcohol misuse as well.  Some of these include nutritional deficiencies (B-vitamins, folic acid, and zinc), diseases such as anemia and liver damage, increased illness as the immune system becomes suppressed, and increased risk of injury as healing is compromised.

Overall recommendations: alcohol can be part of a balanced lifestyle; however, athletes should avoid alcohol during their training season; especially post-exercise when recovery and tissue repair are of the upmost importance. References:
Barnes, M. J. (2014). Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(7), 909-919.

Burke, L. M., Collier, G. R., Broad, E. M., Davis, P. G., Martin, D. T., Sanigorski, A. J., & Hargreaves, M. (2003). Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 95(3), 983-990.

Lourenco, S., Oliveira, A., & Lopes, C. (2012). The effect of current and lifetime alcohol consumption on overall and central obesity. European journal of clinical nutrition, 66(7), 813-818.

Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One, 9(2), e88384.

Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528.

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