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The Effects of Alcohol on Training

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The Effects of Alcohol on Training

I'm sure we've all heard of the consequences alcohol consumption can have on your health countless times, yet with Christmas just around the corner it is a time when people let loose and have a drink or two. So it is important to note the effects of alcohol on the body and how alcohol affects sports performance while training.

Impact of Alcohol

Perhaps the first and foremost issue that springs to mind when alcohol and sports performance are mentioned is dehydration. Alcohol's effects on kidney function have negative effects on the body's regulation of fluid and electrolytes. Depending on the extent, dehydration can cause increased blood acidity, decreased strength, reduced VO2 max, discomfort, headaches and nausea to name just a few symptoms. Taking more than just a couple of alcoholic drinks will generally lead to a hangover. This in itself will leave you lethargic and disrupt training patterns. Your motivation will take a dive and most likely your nutrition will for a day or so after also. Alcohol consumption is likely to affect the quality of your sleep significantly. For those of you who don't appreciate the importance that the role of sleep has on performance, I would recommend reading the following article: Sleep - The Overlooked Factor Alcohol can also have adverse effects on your cognitive state, due to decreased glycogen to the brain, resulting in slow thoughts and a lack of focus. Add to this a decreased reaction speed in addition to impaired balance and co-ordination and it is no surprise why many athletes steer clear of alcohol altogether. Whilst these issues may not be so detrimental for the odd weight training session, those involved in performance sports will likely see a significant drop in performance. It can take up to 48 hours after drinking has ceased to for the liver to fully metabolise all the alcohol. That may not be too much of a surprise to most of you reading but the killer point is that the time the liver spends metabolising alcohol is done at the expense of glycogen (the body's main fuel), leading to a loss of strength and increased fatigue. The effect of alcohol on testosterone is also worryingly, often overlooked. Testosterone levels can remain dipped for as long as 24 hours after drinking due to increased breakdown and removal of testosterone from the blood and decreased rate of testosterone production. To add further complications, studies have shown that alcohol consumption causes cortisol levels to rise and stay elevated for as long as testosterone levels are suppressed; two factors that won't help your bodybuilding efforts one bit. One thing that is definitely not recommended is alcohol consumption after a big training session. Alcohol will increase swelling and increase recovery time from injuries so if you have any knocks after your session, you may be best sticking with soft drinks.  

For those of you who are looking to keep lean, drinking alcohol can be a thorn in your side. Alcohol at 7kcal/gram carries almost twice as many kcal/g as protein or carbohydrates do, without providing the beneficial nutrients that the other two possess. Whilst one or two bottles of beer can be worked off through cardio, working off a big Saturday night sessions is a whole load harder and overconsumption will lead to you to put on unwanted excess weight. Add this to the increased hunger that alcohol causes (hands up those who can't resist a burger or kebab at the end of the night) and the additional calories from drink and "the munchies" can certainly be detrimental. Check out the table below to see just how many calories you consume on an average night out.

Drink/Food Calorie Content
1 Can of lager (4-5% ABV) 153
1 pint of lager 233
1 pint of bitter 182
1 25ml shot (37.5% ABV) 52
1 bottle of alcopop 201
1 small glass of red wine (125ml) 85
1 small glass of white wine (125ml) 88
Donner Kebab 500-750
12 inch pizza 1384
Quarter Pounder 684
Hot Dog 464
Portion of chips 394

Recommendations:

I want to make it clear that in the intention of this article is certainly not to bash alcohol, but rather to discuss the facts and offer advice on how drinking can be enjoyed in moderation during the holidays without getting in the way of your training and performance goals. Below are some practical tips you can use when out with friends to minimise the negative effects of alcohol:

1) Try alternating alcoholic and low-calorie non-alcoholic drinks (e.g. water, diet soda)

2) Use low-calorie (diet version) mixers with spirits.

3) To minimise calories, try making your wine into a spritzer or your lager into a shandy.

4) Ditch the alcopops in favour of spirit and "diet" mixers - it will save calories and the embarrassment for men of being seen drinking them in public.

5) If dieting, try to save some calories earlier in the day to allow for some drinks in the evening.

6) Look for drinks such as wine, which have a high alcohol percentage but relatively low calorie count.

7) If drinking beers, aim to switch to spirit and low-cal mixers after a couple of drinks to minimise calorie intake.

8) Don't expect to be on top form for your PB squat session the day after you have a night out! If you know you will be drinking then be sure to set your training accordingly.    

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Author: David Rowse 

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