29 December 2011

New Year's party and the effect of alcohol on your muscles and fitness

Alcohol eats away at muscle mass and more ...

Cock tails, courtesy of alpha du centaure
There is a high chance that consumption of alcohol diminishes the effect of your training and jeopardizes your performance and athletic goals.

A summary: alcohol has an indirectly negative effect on muscle mass, it influences your hormone balance, has a lipogenic effect (making you fat), deprives you of quality sleep (1) and quite a few more undesirable influences on your body's systems. All of which negatively effect your athletic performance.

In its FitFacts™ advice series the American Council on Exercise (ACE) writes (2):
If increasing muscle mass is one of your goals, then think twice before you go out for a night of heavy drinking. Consuming alcohol in large quantities has a direct effect on your metabolism, causing fat to be stored instead of being utilized as an energy source. Alcohol contains seven “empty” calories per gram, meaning that these calories don’t provide you with any of the essential nutrients you need to build that muscle mass you desire.
Endurance athletes translate "that muscle mass you desire" to "strength-endurance you desire".

Get the full FitFacts™ on alcohol and exercise by clicking here (a free PDF). (Individuals concerned with weight management might be interested in how fast calories can add up with a few drinks. Click the above link.)

Actually the undesirable influence of alcohol consumption on the quality and length of  sleep (1) is probably of most concern as far as acute effects go. Insufficient sleep (with or without alcohol in your blood) is severely impairing your recovery. A good night's sleep is essential for every ambitious, goal-oriented athlete. Human growth hormone (GH), a major contributor to recovery, is released throughout the duration of your sleep (3). The longer you sleep, the better.

 I am not banning alcohol form my social life, yet I have cut consumption to very moderate amounts and only at special occasions. There are times when a beer or a glass of red wine fits in nicely. Alcohol has little to no place when my training is in full swing, preparing for competition etc.

My advice: know your limits and stick with them. For some athletes this is ZERO alcohol, for others it maybe ONE (or two if you are male) glass(es).

By the way, red wine might be a relatively good choice, consumed in moderation it is supposed to be beneficial because of its anti-oxidant effect (4). Just in case, there are many non-alcoholic antioxidant foods to choose from as well.

If you must consume alcohol, do so in moderation (or not at all) and follow the guidelines given here (5, 6):
  • Don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Choose beverages with low alcohol content.
  • For every glass of alcoholic beverage, drink about the same amount of a non-alcoholic beverage (water is perfect, avoid beverages containing sugar, natural or other).
  • Continue to drink non-alcoholic beverages (water) well after consuming alcohol.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption within 48 hours of an important workout / event.
  • After a workout re-fuel and re-hydrate before consuming alcohol.
By the way, almost everything said here equally applies for non-athletes just as well.

Happy New Year!

(1) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Alcohol Alert: Alcohol and Sleep, No. 41, July 1998.
(2) American Council on Exercise (ACE), FitFacts™, Alcohol Eats Away at Muscle Mass, 2009.
(3) Y. Takahashi, D. M. Kipnis, W. H. Daughaday, Growth hormone secretion during sleep, Published in Volume 47, Issue 9, J Clin Invest. 1968.
(4)  Micallef M, Lexis L, Lewandowski P. Red wine consumption increases antioxidant status and decreases oxidative stress in the circulation of both young and old humans. Nutr J 2007; 6: 27.
(5) National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), Alcohol Consumption and its Effect on Performance.
(6) American College of Sports Medicine, Alcohol and athletic performance. Indianapolis, IN. 2000.

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