I’ve often commented within this blog about the negative affects associated with the consumption of alcohol, in addition to the social stigma associated with people that abstain from drinking. It seems drinking has become an accepted and integral part of our social fabric. That said, as long as it’s restricted to 1-2 drinks a day (1 for women, 2 for men), alcohol can actually have positive heart health benefits. The problem I see, is that most individuals drink far more than what is considered healthy.
But, how much alcohol can you drink before it negatively impacts athletic performance? The answer is ZERO. Any alcohol in your system is detrimental to any kind of fitness activity, (well maybe except for recreational dancing). Here are just four examples how booze wreaks havoc on the athletic body.
Hard workouts drain the glycogen stores (carbohydrates stored in the liver and muscles) and leave your muscle tissue in need of repair. "Pouring alcohol into your system as soon as you finish stalls the recovery process," says Tavis Piattoly, R.D. High levels of alcohol displace the carbohydrates, leaving your stores still 50 percent lower than normal even eight hours later. Sip or snack on a combo of muscle-repairing protein and carbohydrates before thinking that a cold beer as a good recovery drink.
When booze is on board, your body, besides having to deal with the surplus of calories, prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol over burning fat and carbohydrates. Alcohol also breaks down amino acids and stores them as fat. "For some reason this process is most pronounced in the thighs and glutes," says Piattoly. "Excessive alcohol consumption really chews up muscle in those areas." It also increases levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which further encourages fat storage, particularly in your midsection.
Boozing also blows your muscle recovery and performance by sapping your sleep. In a study of 93 men and women, researchers found that alcohol decreased sleep duration and increased wakefulness (particularly in the second half of the night), especially in women, whose sleep time was decreased by more than 30 minutes over the night. "Disrupting the sleep cycle can reduce your human growth hormone output—which builds muscle—by as much as 70 percent," says Piattoly.
Depleted Water and Nutrients
Alcohol irritates the stomach lining, which can reduce your capacity to absorb nutrients (the reason you have an upset stomach after a few too many), says Brian R. Christie, Ph.D.—not to mention that alcohol makes you pee. For every gram of ethanol you suck down, you pump out 10 milliliters of urine (that's about 9.5 ounces for two beers). As little as 2% dehydration will significantly hurt your athletic performance. And by the way, you can't rehydrate with a dehydrating drink (e.g., beer).
So regardless if you're training for the Tour de France, or the next local 5km fun ran, the next time you reach for something to drink after your workout, make it something that both you and your body will appreciate. Cheers.
Enjoy the Ride ....Rob