Fitness and alcohol, the elephant in the fitness-room.
Talking about alcohol with really fit people is kind of like talking about alcohol in front of a nun. You feel a bit awkward, and you immediately realize they may not be tolerant of your consumption of the strong drink.
But is alcohol bad? Can you consume alcohol and still be fit and healthy? I would like to provide you with EVERYTHING you need to know about fitness and alcohol.
Nowadays, I really don’t drink too much. I find that even having just a drink or two will negatively effect me in some way. It’s unfortunate too, because I truly enjoyed a dark beer not too long ago. But I still have the occasional dark beer or ‘paleo-friendly’ drink. Hey, it’s part of the rules here at End of Three Fitness, from rule #6, “No body is perfect! Cheat meals only make you human and the occasional beer with friends doesn’t need to be passed up for the sake of discipline.” – Read all the rules HERE.
Ok, let’s jump into fitness and alcohol.
Fitness and Alcohol: The Bad
First, there is plenty of evidence that alcohol alone can be bad for your liver, health and ability to operate a motor vehicle…but what about your ability to lift a barbell?
Studies show…well, studies show everything and anything. According to a recent study End of Three Fitness is the best fitness website ever created…
I will refer to studies on more than one occasion in this article and I will link to most them for your reading pleasure, but I want to start with…studies can show a lot of stuff, see below:
A tiny bit of alcohol science…
Here is a study – “Alcohol consumption did not significantly modify the association between fitness and mortality in this large cohort of men.”
Here is a study - “Results show increased physical fitness as ethanol intake increased in women and nonsmoking men and mildly decreased physical fitness as ethanol consumption increases among men who smoke.”
Here is a study – “Among this cohort of men, higher fitness levels reduced the risk for MetS and its components. The relation between alcohol intake levels and metabolic risk was more complex and not reflected when examining MetS as a whole.”
All these studies really say to me is…they are not really sure. So don’t get too hung up on the studies, know they are factual, but really, apply fitness and alcohol to yourself, your experience and thoughts, don’t try to get too scientific.
Here are the basics of alcohol and how it may hurt your fitness performance:
What’s the nutritional value?
- Your body puts metabolizing alcohol at the top of its list of things to do once it enters the body, which means the absorption of vitamins and minerals from other foods slows dramatically. And you have probably heard alcohol is “empty calories”, which just means no real nutritional value. Your body want’s to get rid of it, not store it, so it cannot be used by your muscles.
- A study done on rats (always a fun way to start a sentence), has proven protein synthesis degradation, which means less HGH and overall muscle growth reduction. Some drinks may even hinder our body to absorb needed protein, post-workout. Nutritional value…not great.
Everyone knows about the liver, but what about…
- Ok, we all know alcohol can be bad for your liver, but this article isn’t for alcoholics worried about cirrhosis. Your body sends alcohol to the liver, enzymes are produced to metabolize and boom alcohol is being processed in the body, but…
- This process can interfere with ATP (adenosine triphosphate synthesis) production, which is a direct energy source for your muscles in short-term muscles contractions, it is pretty important.
- Drinking can cause a drop in blood sugar levels, which makes drinking potentially dangerous for diabetics. Keeping that level blood sugar line is important in your overall health, so screwing with it isn’t great.
- Also, alcohol before a workout (not smart) can inhibit the circulation of glucose, and leave us reaching for that wonderful energy source.
- Alcohol and caffeine have the ability make you urinate, meaning fluid and electrolyte loss. So, as if it needed to be stated, alcohol before or during a workout is an awful idea.
Hmm…no real nutritional value, jacks with your blood sugar, gets you dehydrated and harms the liver and your energy levels and production.
That’s a great segue on how you should consume a liquid capable of all that
How should, or, should YOU Drink?
Whether or not your consume alcohol is primarily a personal choice (duh!), but you have to know your goals and the direction you are headed. Personally, I don’t think you should binge drink, border on the line of alcoholism or make poor decisions, but hey, that’s just my two cents. You do what YOU want.
I mean the Jersey Shore dudes all had six packs and drank every night, so they must have been healthy, right? I mean, right?
It all really depends on who you are.
There are some good things to alcohol:
**Moderate alcohol consumption (not heavy or frequent)**
- Studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol, ~ one shot, have no real effect on the recovery of your muscles post workout.
- Also, small amounts of alcohol can help reduce stress
- It can increase the good kind of cholesterol (HDL)
- Certain kinds of alcohol are packed with antioxidants
- It can increase vascular health
- It has been shown to lower the incidence of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Research has linked moderate drinking in those over 65 with superior cognitive and memory function
Are these things that can be achieved through a healthy diet, supplementation and other antioxidants? Yes.
However, it seems a drink here and there certainly is not the end of the world.
There are a lot of people who drink a lot, and a little, but not many people drink one shot or less when they do drink…There have been studies that suggest drinking more than that, regularly after strenuous eccentric exercise (lifting heavy things) actually has a negative effect on the damage of the muscle due to the alcohol. That post workout beer is most likely not a good idea…
But is drinking a good idea for YOU??
- Trying to be a competitive athlete? Not the best idea.
- Want to be a better human? Don’t go crazy, but occasional is fine.
- Looking to be average? Take none of this article into account and drink whatever and whenever.
Here is a good way to look at it for some.
- Does it help or hurt you?
- Does it end up controlling you?
- How do you feel after?
- Does it reduce stress?
If there are positives for you, great! If not, why do it?
Sam Briggs, 2013 female CrossFit Games champ, put it this way, “I don’t really drink. Occasionally I will indulge, but I find alcohol has the biggest negative effect on my training so I see it as a waste of time.”
But not everyone is trying to be the fittest person in the world, what about the “other” guy/gal? So what do we do for everyone else, meaning better humans, average humans and other…drink intelligently. I am not talking about throwing your keys in the woods before you head into the bar (not a terrible idea).
I am talking about actually drinking in a smarter way.
4 easy steps to drink smarter
Step 1: Avoid the Congeners
Congeners are produced in the fermentation process of alcohol. Typically it is the darker alcohols that contain them (red wine or whiskey). It is thought that congeners are a culprit in getting hangovers AND they have been studied to show an estrogenic effect – we don’t want that. Meaning vodka and white wines may be a slightly better option than the dark alcohols. And…the more expensive the better (in most cases), unfortunately.
Step 2: Pick a Healthy Drink
I would love to write up all the healthy drinks for you involving calories, and nutritional information, but why read through that when we could just check out this sweet infographic. Click here or on the image for the FULL list of over 50 drink options. Then, there is also always the popular NorCal Margarita, check it out here.
Step 3: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
So if alcohol is a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration, wouldn’t you think it is a good idea to hydrate? Yea, me too. Unless, you want to be out of commission and skip some fitness. Hydrate before you drink, hydrate while you drink and hydrate after you drink. Before you drink just make sure you have been drinking an adequate amount of fluids, I wouldn’t start drinking dehydrated. While you drink, try to match each drink with a glass of water. After you drink, perhaps the next day, try to get a drink that has plenty of electrolytes – juice or gatorade will work.
Step 4: Be Healthy
Always be healthy! But some studies have shown that amino acids and minerals actually help to avoid a hangover.
How about you?
There is a ton of information, studies, articles and really more than you could ever want to or need to know about fitness and alcohol. While it is nice to get the facts…
What about you?
Does drinking just tank your performance, no effect or other?
Have any suggestions or ideas, something I forgot?