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.
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).
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.
On January 29, 2012 I published this article. It’s funny that the argument is still going. Not only the old school versus new school skaters but the idea that the rules of new school are broken. The argument that if it “ain’t fast it ain’t derby”. Yes the Puget Sound v Your Mom game was an awesome one at MRDA Champs last weekend. However, the more staccato, stronger-yet-sometimes-slow Southern Discomfort against Bridgetown Menace was no less exciting. Anything italicized, ps, is different from the original article, I didn’t want to re-write this. It was popular for a reason the first time around. The photos have also been updated.
So with that I bring you my next reboot:
Old School vs. New School. Strategy vs. Smash ‘n’ Grab. Jammer Line vs. Pivot Line. Booty Block vs. Big Hits. Rules vs. Free Form. Beer & Camaraderie vs. Cross Training & Team Commitment. Sharp, Strong, Stops vs. Fast, Fluid, Sweeping.
These are the dichotomies that have bubbled to the surface of the sub-culture of derby. A generation gap has arisen between the vets of “the good ol’ days” and the skaters of the modern culture.
Since the new revolution of roller derby started (back in 2001), the landscape of the sport has shifted considerably. When it was first gaining momentum, skaters and leagues were looking to the tradition of 1970’s over-the-top antics for inspiration. They had to learn how to play the sport from the only people that had played the sport.
The result was a show of big hits, cages as penalty boxes, personas and spectacle. Game play was spotty during the early years. Leagues were figuring out through trial and error what worked, what did not; what was dangerous and what was just fun. The game was unrefined. Those who were drawn to roller derby wanted to together with friends, to hit things and drink beer. It was not about refining strategy and being at your healthiest. The ultimate goal of roller derby was to have fun, skate really fast and hard, and maybe, be a little bit of show.
When leagues started (the boom of flat track roller derby really started at the end of 2005), girls who are now legendary did not know how to skate. Everyone was new. Other than the speed, jam or artistic skaters that joined the ranks, few girls were adept at the art and skill of roller skating. Forget putting a sport on top of that! This is what made the game unrefined for a while. Everyone was still learning their balance and stability on eight wheels, so being agile and clean on a grand scale was near impossible.
Times, they are a-changing.
It is common now for leagues to have skaters with six years of experience on wheels. From just that one element, the game has changed. Girls who are now coming into the game must train more seriously in order to compete with the vets who have simply been wheels for years. At a boot camp by the Gotham Girls, Suzy Hotrod stated to skaters: “Yea I can do a lot [on skates]. I’ve been doing it for seven years. If you put up with this sport for that long, you’ll be just as good.”
Most skaters do not want to wait seven years, and they realize that if they cross-train, improve their diet and treat their body like a professional athlete, they will accelerate exponentially. There has been a health revolution! More leagues are partnering with gyms and personal trainers. More skaters are paying attention to their nutrition and workout routine off the track, because they realize it will have a direct impact on their performance during game play.
Support groups and workout routines focused on derby have emerged. The Roller Derby Workout Challenge ran for three years. The Derbalife Big 5 Challenge has operated several times; both are challenges designed to teach and motivate. Derbalife is skater-centered nutrition that includes skater-to-skater coaching. Learn about Derbalife.
Winning is fun, and the way to win in 2012 (and even more now in 2014!!) is to be strong of body and of mind.
Speaking of ‘mind’, game play and strategy have changed dramatically in the last three years (five years!). Since the inception of W.F.T.D.A., skaters and refs have taken note about what works on the track and what are health hazards. While the rule set that has evolved over the years can be confusing to the untrained reader, it is so because it has developed organically. If an established rule continually gets challenged, interpreted differently at different bouts, or has shown itself to not protect the skaters, it has been changed. One of the best features of the W.F.T.D.A. set up: voting member leagues have been able to shape the sport itself over the years. Modern Note: And for the M.R.D.A. the ability to look through the rules and make any further clarifications or adjustments as their organization feels is needed.
Now, we get to the crux of it. Because skaters have shaped the sport over the years, skaters have been able to control how they want the game to be played. The best leagues are able to look at the rules and understand the implicit meaning behind the rules. Most leagues look at a rule set and understand what it says. The winning leagues are the ones that understand what the rules DO NOT say. From what the rules do not say, a league can exploit the loopholes and skate circles around leagues that do not understand the implicit meanings.
So, this causes a bigger need to pay attention to detail. In order to compete, every league must understand the new loopholes and strategies being used by the leagues around them. It means watching bout reels. It means watching other bouts. It means extra strategy sessions. It means extra hard training at practice. Those skaters who do more outside of practice to understand the game and new skills and tactics will be the ones most successful in scrimmage, and therefore in bouts.
Five years ago, girls could walk into a league and party. They could practice twice a week, play dirty and laugh about it later because they would still make the all star team. They would still win games. They would still be super stars. No more is it the case. Drinking teams with a derby problem do not exist in the modern world of roller derby: it is an ‘adapt or die’ sport.
Skaters who do not care about their craft simply do not skate on high level all star teams, and even the smallest leagues are becoming highly competitive. Leagues that do not care about their strategy do not win. When you do not win, you do not have fans. You lose skaters to more serious leagues, your sponsors drop off. You perish.
So are “the good ol’ days” of derby gone? Maybe, but the motto of “Skate hard, turn left” endures. There are still bruises to show off, rink rash to brag about and beers to buy after a hard fought bout. Rivalries still happen, and what happens on the track still stays on the track.
The game may feel different than it did in 2006, and the training may be far more intense, but it does not make any of it less awesome. Whether beers and brawlin’ or hydration and smarts, roller derby is a uniquely intense sport. The vets should be proud of the foundation and history they created. The current generation should be just as proud of how they have cultivated their craft and shaped modern roller derby.
Have you ever been so burdened with so much swirling around in your brain that you don’t know how to get it out or organize it? That’s what’s going on. I’ve actually put off writing blogs in the last few months because there has been SO MUCH going on (positive, negative and everywhere in between) that I didn’t know how to get it out in one smooth, amazing, life-altering blog.
Today I finished listening to Jon Acuff’s Start. Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters. If you haven’t heard of Jon Acuff, go find him right now. If you know me personally, you will know that I’m not always willing to jump onto bandwagons that involve heavy religion, but his “Stuff Christians Like” blog always has some good insight and anecdotes (and it’s not just about Bible-Things … so that’s a win).
Finishing that book this morning (after listening to a fair bit of it on the plane ride home last night) really solidified my vision for the future:
IT’S TIME TO STOP PRETENDING AND TALKING AND IT’S TIME TO GET TO WORK.
Hey, luckily, I’m working right now. I’m writing. I’m doing what I love. I’m sharing my thoughts with the world. OK, maybe this sentence isn’t work. It’s not a direct sale or getting anyone to a Fit Club, but it’s the first step to habit. It’s the first step of rebooting.
My Khaos Theory Blog has been a mishmash of things from Public Relations (which is why it started. I got a poor grade as a PR project, but I gained 100 followers during that first semester, so I call that an A+) to roller derby. Now I will be focusing it to health and wellness and sports. It will be workouts for those on and off wheels and nutrition that will benefit everyone. It will be my journey and thoughts and motivation for the world. It will be a documentary of what it means to coach and train within a Healthy, Active Lifestyle.
I’m ready to take over Baltimore and the Internet. I’m ready to get back into what I love: filming coaching videos (no matter how low budget), talking about drills, teaching and practicing. I have a new nutrition plan that will be kicking in with the next 24 Fit Challenge that our team is doing online (and I still have 15 spots open on my team, so let me know if you want to join).
I’m also going to do better at compartmentalizing my blogs. So… instead of telling you all about California, I’m going to end this blog, post and then write a separate one.