Written by Alyssa Schlosser, B.S. in Health Promotion with a Specialization in Health and Fitness Training
Alcohol consumption is a widely accepted and popular way to celebrate, relax and enjoy others company in many social settings, but what exactly does drinking do to your body? How does it affect the training you work so hard for in the gym, and what does it do for your nutrition? These are things that we might not think about when we are drinking, or even the next day, but understanding the effects may make you consider lowering or even eliminating your alcohol consumption the next time someone offers you a drink.
It’s a Saturday morning, and you just finished your morning 8 mile bike ride – awesome! Your friends call you and ask if you want to go out and get drinks at lunch at a local restaurant, but you only have 20 minutes to get ready and leave. This is definitely not enough time to shower and eat, so you shower and run out the door. When you get to the bar, you have two beers with your lunch – no water or your normal protein shake post bike ride. Yikes. Little do you know, alcohol can interfere with many aspects of the recovery process. Beverages containing greater than or equal to 4% alcohol can increase urine output, delaying recovery from a dehydrated state. In addition to this, muscle growth and repair can potentially be inhibited because muscle protein synthesis is not being stimulated properly, due to alcohol consumption. These things prolong the recovery period from your bike ride, and don’t allow you to recover fully before your next training session. In addition to this, muscle protein synthesis is reduced after exercise if alcoholic beverages are being consumed. This means that your ability to make proteins to rebuild the muscle you used for your bike ride decreases.
If you continue drinking, possibly at a cookout you were invited to, or if you’re just hanging out on the patio with family, eventually you might have one too many and feel a little sleepy. Now, I don’t know a single person who has ever had a 10 out of 10 nights sleep after a day and a night of drinking. This is because we stay out later and longer when drinking, and alcohol disrupts the restorative sleep cycles throughout the night, decreasing your quality of sleep. Then, you wake up Sunday morning with a headache, and you told your significant other that you’d go on a run with them the night before. You’re tired and hungry and don’t feel so great (also known as “hungover”) but you go anyway. Research has shown an approximate 11% decrease in aerobic capacity in those exercising with a hangover. So, your run is 11% less effective than it would have been if you didn’t drink last night!
It’s not all over from here. If you didn’t already assume this, I’m here to tell you that there are chronic effects that come from consuming alcohol. Calorie intake is huge when trying to make progress in regard to weight management, so it is important to know that alcohol is calorically dense. There are seven calories per gram of alcohol, and a standard drink in the U.S. contains about 14 grams of alcohol. As a general reference, the following are common drink sizes and their average alcohol content: 12 oz of beer (5% alcohol), 5 oz of wine (12% alcohol), and 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol). The calories from these beverages, and the unhealthy foods generally associated with drinking, can add up quickly and significantly increase caloric intake.
Most studies that looked at alcohol consumption mimic binge drinking during their analysis to see what the true effect of maximum consumption is on performance.However, no matter the amount of alcohol consumed, the calories in alcohol are significant and should be avoided if you are serious about improving performance and losing weight!