“Work hard, play hard.” That’s how the expression goes, right?
As a casual or competitive Weightlifter you might wonder if the occasional bevvie, or even binge, has a significant effect on your body? Your health? Your training?
While no one will deny that there’s nothing better than a craft beer on the patio or glass of red relaxing on the couch, alcohol does have a definitive “holistic” effect on your system – and not in a good way. Over time, alcohol can cause a variety of cardiovascular complications, such as cardiomyopathies, arrhythmias, and elevated blood pressure, particularly if you have a known family history of heart disease. It can also inflame and scar other organs, leading to fatty liver, cirrhosis, hepatitis or pancreatitis. We know that alcohol can tank your immune system and increase your chances of developing certain cancers, as well as all those pesky bugs that are starting to circulate as we head into the colder months. Not to mention, *ahem* COVID.
Beyond all of these long-term health complications, alcohol also happens to be extremely calorie dense. It clocks 7 calories per gram – nearly as much as pure fat! Unlike fat however, alcohol provides no fuel for your workouts, and actually slows down your caloric burn during exercise. Our bodies are not designed to store alcohol so they try to rid themselves of it as quickly as possible. This gets in the way of other metabolic processes such as nutrient uptake from food and regulation of glucose storage/release. In the end all those extra calories overload the system, turning to fat and compounding other health concerns or diseases already at play.
And what about the effect of alcohol on training?
Well, they’re numerous, that’s for sure.
Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and decreases the amount of time spent in REM sleep. This results in fatigue, decreased daytime alertness, and decreased hormone production. This is especially detrimental in the case of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and testosterone, two of the key hormones for muscle repair and growth. Not only does alcohol suppress testosterone and HGH production by up to 70%, it also causes the liver to release toxins which reduce the amount of testosterone you already have synthesized. To make a bad story worse, alcohol further reduces protein synthesis and causes myopathies to occur, inhibiting the ability of small muscle cells to fire properly, resulting in muscle weakness.
As if all this weren’t enough,, alcohol causes dehydration through its diuretic effect. We all know this from experience, but what does it really mean?
Dehydration forces your heart to work harder, and while that increased heart rate in the short term is simply draining, over time it can lead to muscle hypertrophy and the cardiomyopathies listed above. In addition, once fluid balance is disrupted within cells the body has a much harder time producing ATP, resulting in lack of energy and endurance. This can have huge implications for athletes: even at a very low level of dehydration – just a 2.5% reduction – can drop performance and VO2 max by as much as 30-45%! Under-hydration also predisposes us to cramps and strains, increasing the risk for injury.
So what’s the answer?
No one is telling you not to enjoy the occasional beverage but consider your goals –both short and long term – and consciously think about where alcohol fits into that. You may find you can still meet your goals while enjoying a social drink here and there, or you may find at times you need to reel it in (like for an upcoming comp!). Probably our biggest take home is that while we’re in this period of social distancing it can become very easy to start imbibing more than ever. Although comps might be a ways off our intake now will have an effect on our training and performance, and no one wants to come out of this six months behind, so pick and choose your occasions!