The Effect Of Alcohol On Your Body And On Your Performance
Posted on 14th June 2023
Whether you enjoy a bit of casual exercise, you’re in the gym every day, or you regularly compete in sports events, it’s good to understand the effects alcohol can have on your sports performance and overall fitness.
Many professional athletes don't drink at all or drink very little. Here are some reasons why…
Drinking alcohol leads to decreased attention span, reaction time, reduced energy levels, concentration, and focus. Alcohol interferes with the way the body makes energy. Exercise obviously requires energy, but if your liver isn’t producing enough glucose, your performance will be affected.
Alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes your kidneys produce more urine, increasing dehydration. When you start sweating you’ll get dehydrated much more quickly than usual. If you’re dehydrated you run a greater risk of injury, cramps, and strains. Dehydration can also cause a build-up of waste products such as lactic acid, your blood may thicken, and nutrients and oxygen will take longer to reach your muscles. Reduced blood flow to the muscles can cause deterioration over time. You’re more likely to overheat if you’re dehydrated, and this can have health implications.
We tend to make poor food decisions when we've been drinking and don’t fuel our bodies properly. Yes, we’re talking about the 2am kebab and chips that you wouldn’t touch if you were sober! Alcohol consumption prevents key nutrients from being absorbed into the body. Poor fuelling = poor performance.
You might think alcohol makes you sleep better, but that’s simply not true. If your sleep cycle gets disrupted you may not be able to store glycogen effectively (needed for endurance) and there will be a noticeable increase in cortisol levels (stress hormone). Cortisol reduces human growth hormone which is vital to the developing and repairing of muscle tissue.
You can become more prone to injuries and the body will be less able to recover quickly. Alcohol can prevent skeletal muscles recovering and growing, and therefore increase the risk of injury and extends recovery periods. Alcohol can put extra pressures on your organs, such as your heart, liver and kidneys. Add in some exercise and the pressure increases further.
Alcohol should be avoided by those who are suffering from an injury as research has shown that alcohol affects the body’s ability to recover and heal quickly.
Build-up of fats
Alcohol contains a vast amount of calories, more than you probably think. This can cause fats to build up in the bloodstream, increasing fat deposits and fluid retention - all of which impact upon performance. Alcohol can also reduce the number of calories burnt in an exercise session - the body can't store alcohol so it tries to get rid of this first.
Alcohol can mask pain by affecting the nerve endings. Pain is often there for a reason. Don’t ignore it. Listen to your body!
Low alcohol and alcohol free alternatives
Have you tried some of the low-alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives? Alcohol-free drinks used to be a bit tasteless but recently things have improved. Beer wise, you can get big brands like Heineken, Brewdog, Peroni, Stella, Budweiser, Corona, and more. Ciders include Kopparberg, Old Mout, and Stowford Press. Gin more your thing? Try Seedlip or Gordons. Wine-wise there are a fair few bottles on the market that aren't too bad. It's worth giving them a taste to see what you think – bearing in mind that they’re not sugar- or calorie-free!
What’s the advice?
Please remember to avoid alcohol before AND after a sports massage if you want to maximise the benefits. Drink plenty of water, instead. Massage can help flush out toxins and aid recovery.
The official advice is that it’s safest not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis. If you do drink this much, spread it evenly over three or more days, with at least three drink-free days every week.
By cutting down how much you drink you’re likely to see a range of positive effects and better sports performance could be one of them.
If you’d like to help people understand how lifestyle factors can help the body heal, sign up for one of our sports therapist courses today!
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