We all love a tipple from time to time. Whether we use alcohol socially, as a stress reliever, emotional crutch or for less desirable purposes, there is an undeniable drinking culture that permeates the lives of young professionals and others alike.
We are all familiar with the aftermath of a night on the booze – dustiness, dry mouth, headaches and a churning stomach, but can your drinking habits run deeper and affect your fitness performance too?
Irrespective of whether you are a serial exerciser, marathon runner, casual gym-goer, CrossFit aficionado or budding yogi, the effects of alcohol on performance are interesting to note. Essentially, alcohol affects the body in two ways:
Drinking alcohol dehydrates you
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that drinking it causes your kidneys to produce more urine, which is expelled more frequently, leading to dehydration. This, coupled with sweat exerted from exercise causes a recipe for dehydration disaster.
When exercising without adequate hydration, the body struggles to maintain blood flow throughout. Without this, your muscles and brain cannot get enough oxygen and nutrients, harming performance in the process.
Alcohol interferes with the way the body produces energy
Alcohol is harsh on the body’s metabolism. When breaking it down, the liver cannot produce as much glucose, which results in low blood sugar levels. As we know, exercise – especially prolonged exercise – requires high levels of glucose to produce energy to pump blood around the body. When the liver fails to produce enough glucose, the body is forced to get energy from fat stores, resulting in slower performance and a less intense workout.
Long-term alcohol consumption impairs muscle growth
Long term drinking diminishes protein synthesis, which can result in a decrease in muscle growth. It can also prevent muscle recovery, as drinking often affects sleep patterns. Less sleep means less HGH, the natural human growth hormone, which means less muscle growth.
Another reason why alcohol is shunned in fitness circles is simple: alcoholic drinks are not only nutrient deficient, they are most often packed with added sugar, carbs and calories that are generally un-needed by the body. Alcohol itself contains around 7 calories per gram, however it is not the pure alcohol that is the issue: it is the things we drink with it. A pina colada, for example, can contain more calories than a Big Mac!
On top of this, calories from alcohol are not converted to glycogen, a form of stored carbohydrates. The body therefore treats alcohol as fat, and stores it as such. This is on top of the fatty food people often reach for after a night out on the drink. These things obviously contribute adversely to your body composition and overall performance.
With all this said, a drink or two every now and again is not going to kill you. Best options are clean spirits with soda (think vodka soda with fresh lime), white wine, or light red wine, such as pinot noir. Steer clear of darker spirits mixed with soft drinks, large beers and creamy or sugary cocktails. If the menu mentions ‘syrup’, you know it is a sugar bomb. As always, be an informed consumer and make the best choices for your body. Not only will you have a clear head in the morning, your fitness performance will reap the benefits too.