Month: December 2014

Alcohol and its Effect on Athletes (Blog Reboot)

Alcohol and its Effect on Athletes (Blog Reboot)

Alcohol is the enemy of the athlete.

This is not a self-righteous rant against imbibing. If you are over 21, you are more than capable of making decisions. For competitive athletes, it is good to know everything about what you put into your body. How many of us labor over the protein content of our bread, or spend hours deciding between the benefits of certain pre-workout drinks, yet do not know the full range of side effects of drinking. There is a plethora of studies that show that alcohol is altogether bad for an athlete’s progress, so while the news should not be shocking, I feel that it’s important to explain WHY you should avoid that  weekend binge.

Side note: I’m not a biochemist. I am translating here the research I have read over the course of my studies and have sited sources at the bottom.

Drinking casually is often seen as a way of relaxing; it’s a social experience. Drinking after an athletic competition, like a derby bout or scrimmage, is often associated in the brain as a reward for a job well done. Many of us in the community have trained our brains to crave the alcohol as a way to bring the body down. We arrive at our after party spot and our sense memory is activated. Suddenly, all we can think is, “And now we order a Water Gap Wheat!” Drinking is also, sadly, part of the derby ‘tradition’. What is a bout or tournament without a raucous after party? How many teams brag as much about their after party ‘wins’ as they do about their ACTUAL wins?

Most athletes are uneducated (or flat out ignore) the biology of alcohol. If more knew what was happening, more might turn down that pint the day before a competition.

Your nutrition can be the reason why your training plan is (or isn’t) working out for you. That’s great that you lift and do plyo 4x a week. However, if you are living on fast food and tequila and expect to escalate quickly to the ranks of the Gods, you need to re-evaluate. The likelihood of you raising to elite athlete levels is much lower on this nutrition plan than someone who is training as hard, but pays attention to the daily macros.

So what’s the big deal about booze?

Did you know that alcohol can effect the body even 48 hours after consumption? While it may be gone from the digestive tract, the aftermath lingers in cells and systems. It can effect rationale, balance, and dexterity.

Alcohol is metabolized differently than other foods. Unlike sugar, fat, or protein, the body has nowhere to store alcohol. It’s only option is to metabolism immediately. So let’s say you are eating food after your competition and have a few shots. The body will place priority on digesting the alcohol to move it along, instead of the food, thereby preventing the body from properly converting food into energy. When calories are not metabolized into energy, they are stored as fat for the body to ‘deal with later’.

Are you not eating anything with your drink (also is not wise, but let’s just pretend for a moment)? Unless you’re taking straight shots, your drink will have additional sugars and carbohydrates that will also not be processed into energy; this is Beer Gut City. Though to be fair, if you’re taking straight shots at the after party with no food in your system after you have competed… there may be a secondary discussion that you need to have with your coach.

Beer spring
Spring Roll 2014 after party

Along with inhibiting metabolism, alcohol saps away Vitamin A (which is the driver of the immune system bus) and Vitamin C from the body. These vitamins are critical in many cell making processes, not the least of which is protein synthesis and new muscle cell creation. Calcium is processed from the body at twice its normal rate during intoxication. Remember, vitamins do not just live in our system. Like food and water, our body absorbs vitamins, uses them, and then needs more. Basically your body burns through calcium way quicker than normal when you are drinking. Women already have trouble absorbing this nutrient, so putting yourself at a further disadvantage is not a wise choice.

Calcium does not just “make for healthy, strong bones” [though it does, and roller derby is a contact sport so let’s not weaken our skeletal structure more]. Calcium helps blood to clot, wounds to recover, and helps to regulate in muscle contracts, like the heart beat. Wound recovery happens after every hard training session. Your muscles are not just sore from a magic chemical in your body, you are sore because you have damaged muscle tissue. You build muscle when your body repairs that damage.

The moral of this story: muscle and tissue recovery is directly effected by alcohol consumption. If your body is lacking the ability to repair itself because of a lack of calcium, you will not get stronger. Also, for as sore as you were going to be anyway? You’ll be sorer, and possibly for a longer period of time.

Dehydration! Every athlete’s least favorite word.

The kidneys and liver are key in the metabolism of alcohol. In order to assist the kidneys, the body diverts water from other parts of the body to flood these our kidneys. All athletes should understand the importance of water to their health and recovery processes: water keeps cells healthy and replicating properly. We are 70% water and even without the alcohol, most of us do not drink enough water.

The liver is what produces glycogen. When it is busy metabolizing alcohol, it cannot be producing the regular rates of glycogen. It is glycogen that the body relies on for most bodily functions.

It is the glycogen that brings energy to our muscles, but our source has been disrupted. This is the metabolism-inhibition process. To make it more fun, without the hydration and glycogen, the byproducts of lactic acid will build up in the muscles. It is that acid that causes the “burn”, and the byproducts that cause the DOMS. If you drink days before your competition, fatigue will occur far quicker. If you drink after your competition, your water intake will be diverted from your muscles to your kidneys, glycogen will not help you to continue to have energy in your muscles to make new cells, and the vitamins will not be there for the wound recovery anyway.

See how it’s all tying together?

In the realm of cognizance, most know that alcohol impairs the brain. In what way, and how quickly though? Since alcohol is so quickly absorbed into our systems (about 20% while in the stomach, the rest while in the intestines), the effects happen within five minutes of ingestion. So that “one for the road” that people do is a really bad idea, regardless of training status.

What basically happens in the neurological system is this: Neuron receptors in the brain are numbed by the metabolized alcohol, which reaches your brain as acetate (yes, acetate, the same stuff we old timers used to develop film). The alcohol slowly shuts down the cerebral cortex, the center of the brain that is in charge of functions like rational thought. In its place, the limbic system calls the shots to keep things running. This is the most primitive part of the brain. It is purely emotional. It is the reason your friends take your cell phone away from you after you begin drinking Mojitos.

Aside from placing beer goggles on you, the shut down of the cerebral cortex means that you have lost some control over your balance, reflexes, and dexterity. Do you really want to be lacking these three pieces of the puzzle the day before you play a bout?

Oh and just for funsies, here’s another great side effect. Alcohol in the blood stream causes blood pressure to go up, causing abnormal heart rates and changes. Also, the synthesis of cholesterol increases when you have alcohol in your system; so more cholesterol is finding its way to the heart than normal. Yes, more of that blood pressure stuff.

Ever drink a couple days before a practice and your cardio conditioning is shot? You feel like your head is pounding and your heart is racing the whole time? That would be from that elevated blood pressure. Plus the dehydration. Plus everything else we’ve talked about.

But wait! You say ABC News told you beer is great after a workout? It’s “more hydrating” than water? That’s what you’re going to write in the comments, right? Yes, beer has grains that would, in theory, help the carbohydrate replenishment your body needs. Yes, booze does spike your blood sugar the way sugar does (and the way your body needs to begin the processes of repair).

beer

However, the ALCOHOL in beer will dehydrate your body, and it will inhibit testosterone secretion.

Ladies, you may think you don’t need test in your system, but you do! We all make testosterone naturally and lifting weights will increase the testosterone production. So guys that suffer from Low T? Try a few months of 5×5 stronglifts before reaching immediately for medication. Ladies that are low on sex drive? Let’s get you deadlifting!

What else does testosterone do? It not only increases the size of muscular cells, but also encourages the production of new muscle cells (Greenfield). Larger cells means an increase in power capacity. More cells means greater power and quick-twitch strength (Greenfield).

So …. what?

So consuming alcohol even semi-regularly, will have an adverse effect on training and progression. It slows muscle recovery, makes cardiovascular endurance harder to build, decreases the rate of muscle cell production from normal rates, and keeps the body from performing normal functions.

Drinking a few days before a game could change your performance the day of competition. Drinking after a workout could negate some of your progress for the day.

Will having a drink destroy everything you have worked for? Absolutely not. However, exercising true moderation and limiting your consumption will have visible results whenever you lift, run, or compete.

To help combat the effects of your favorite beverage, make sure are properly hydrated throughout the day. When in doubt, drink a gallon. That’s my motto! To keep it up with booze, drink an extra 12 oz of water to every 8 oz of liquor (or equivalent). Take vitamins throughout the day, and eat plenty of leafy green veggies.

The best combatant is to not make drinking a habit, or drink alcohol at all.

Want the atmosphere, but not the alcohol? There are a lot of great books with non-alcoholic drink recipes out there! Pick up Zero Proof Cocktails: Alcohol-Free Beverages for Every Occasion and The Ultimate Party Drink Book: Over 750 Recipes for Cocktails, Smoothies, Blender Drinks, Non-Alcoholic Drinks, and More for delicious recipes that won’t kill your gainz.

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Resources:

Greenfield – http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/exercise/should-you-take-testosterone-to-get-fit
http://www.rippednaturally.com/bodybuilding_effects_of_alcohol.htm
http://www.medicinenet.com/alcohol_and_nutrition/page2.htm
http://m.active.com/get_enough_protein_after_your_next_workout.htm
http://www.thehockeywriter.com/training-day-what-nhl-players-do-in-the-off-season