How does drinking alcohol affect athletic performance? Is it okay to have a drink if you are in training, or should you avoid the bottle to maintain your peak fitness?
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in our society. For winding down after a workout, celebrating a big win, a birthday, or special event, or just looking for something to drink with your dinner, alcohol is a fairly common option that many people turn to. But drinking too much can take its toll on the body, and can sometimes have serious consequences.
If you want to maintain physical fitness and perform at your optimal level, it’s worth considering how alcohol might affect your athletic performance, and what you can do to minimise the negative effects of alcohol use.
This post will outline what happens to your body when you drink, how it can affect your fitness and sports performance, and some top tips for finding a healthy approach to alcohol that can keep you fit and healthy.
How does alcohol use affect sports performance?
Alcohol has a reputation for being bad for your health, but what does it actually do to your body, and how can that affect your sports performance?
There are various factors which might affect how your body responds to alcohol, such as your age and gender, body size and composition, as well as how much, how often, and how quickly you drink. It’s important to be aware of, and realistic about, your body’s tolerance towards alcohol, as well as the following common side-effects of drinking on physical performance:
- Decreased aerobic performance:
Alcohol is a diuretic, which can cause dehydration and accelerate muscle fatigue. Combining alcohol with exercise can make dehydration worse because you sweat when you work out. It’s really important to stay hydrated to keep your blood circulating oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. When you’re dehydrated, you face a much higher risk of muscle cramps, pulls, and strains.
- Impaired motor skills:
Alcohol not only slows your reaction times, but it also impairs precision, equilibrium, hand-eye coordination, accuracy, balance, and focus. This can both weaken your performance and increase your risk of injury. What’s more, these effects can last up to 72 hours!
- Slow recovery:
Your body needs to rest, but the effects of alcohol can interfere with this, and delay muscle repair following exercise. Alcohol reduces the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps to build and repair muscles, and drinking too much can reduce serum testosterone levels, which may also reduce lean muscle mass and muscle recovery.
- Impairs body composition and strength:
The calories in alcohol are not used as energy, but rather converted to fatty acids that result in increased body fat storage. Drinking can result in weight gain, decreased strength and muscle growth, and reduced overall performance.
- Nutrient deficiencies:
Alcohol itself has little or no nutritional value. Rather, alcohol use increases the risk of various nutrient deficiencies. It both inhibits the absorption of key nutrients such as Thiamine, Vitamin B12, Folate, and Zinc and, as the body tries to purge the toxic effects of alcohol, it depletes existing nutrient stores which are necessary for normal physical function.
- Risk of illness and injury:
Alcohol use can work to suppress the immune system and contribute to delayed healing. Impaired motor skills and reduced inhibitions can also lead to overexertion, accidents, and injury.
- Disrupted sleep:
Drinking alcohol can interfere with your sleep patterns by reducing time in deep and restful sleep. You need even more sleep than most to give your body and mind a chance to rest and recover after exercise so you can be sharp and in peak physical condition when you wake up.
Drinking heavily can put a real dent in your physical fitness and ability to perform to a high athletic standard. It’s worth being aware of the affects that drinking before exercise can have on your condition and capabilities.
Tips for a healthy approach to alcohol:
Of course, the best way to make absolutely sure that you don’t face the negative effects of drinking alcohol, is to simply not drink. But if the teetotal life doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of sensible tips to bear in mind when it comes to drinking.
- Plan Ahead:
Having a clear idea of your limits before you start drinking can help to keep you from overindulging. Think about where you are going, how much you are going to drink, and how you are getting home. Also consider the time of day, and what you have planned for the next day. Daytime drinking can lead into the night, and training on a hangover will not be fun.
- Remember to eat:
Make sure that you plan a meal before you drink, or between drinks. The negative effects of drinking are amplified on an empty stomach, and you are more likely to eat something nutritious if you factor it in before you get started.
- Pace Yourself:
Alternate drinks to include water or another non-alcoholic drink in between alcoholic drinks. This will help you to stay hydrated, as well as reducing your booze intake.
- Be the designated driver:
Making the decision to be the driver for mates is a great reason not to drink at all.
- Avoid rounds:
Don’t be compelled to drink at someone else’s pace. Rounds encourage people to drink faster to keep up with each other. Take your time.
- Last drink before bed:
Make it water to rehydrate before sleep. Also get a glass of water lined up at your bedside. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
There’s a lot of social pressure to drink, but alcohol can affect your athletic performance. If you want to make sure that you stay on top form, the best way to avoid the side effects of alcohol is to stay alcohol free. Otherwise, there are plenty of ways to have fun, keep yourself safe, and stay healthy and ready to perform!