The Impact of Alcohol on Fitness

Alcohol can negate any efforts to lose body fat and will alter performance for the worst. What is the reasoning behind this?

Ever been tempted to pop to the gym after a lunch that included a couple of drinks?  Exercising soon after drinking alcohol can exacerbate dehydration because you sweat as your body temperature rises. Sweating and the diuretic effect of exercise combined, make dehydration much more likely. You need to be hydrated when you exercise to maintain the flow of blood through your body, which is essential for circulating oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Hydration also helps control your body temperature so you’re more likely to overheat if you’ve been drinking alcohol.

For similar reasons, drinking alcohol the night before could have a negative influence on your performance the following day. Hangover effects such as dehydration, headache and hypersensitivity to stimuli such as light and sound will interfere with performance resulting in a lack of strength and power. You’ll be less likely to make split second decisions and more likely to tire quicker because your body won’t be able to clear out the lactic acid you produce when you exercise. This is because your liver will be working harder to excrete the toxic by-products of alcohol in your system.

Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram - almost twice as many as protein and carbohydrates and just 2 calories fewer than fat, which has 9 per gram, but unlike these macronutrients, alcohol supplies what is often referred to as ‘empty calories’ – this simply means they are calories lacking the nutrients beneficial for a healthy metabolism. Because we cannot metabolise alcohol this means that is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fats and proteins, therefore postponing the fat-burning process and contributing to greater fat storage since the other macro-nutrients are more likely to be stored rather than used up.

Alcoholic drinks also contain calories from other sources, which add to overall caloric intake. Certain cocktails, for example, contain fat whilst wine and beer both have high carbohydrate content. Although the effects these various calorie types have on the body are different - carbohydrates release insulin, which speeds up fat storage, while fats will be stored directly in the fat cells - the overall result is added body fat. Add to this the fact that drinking often results in an increased appetite, resulting in more calories being consumed overall, as we are prone to snacking whilst drinking and you can see how this causes extra gains in body fat.

Alcohol is a by-product of yeast digestion, and so this can have an irritating effect on the lining of the stomach, gradually weakening the kidneys and liver, and possibly resulting in serious health problems – and can be potentially fatal. Any weakening of the stomach will lessen the rate and efficiency at which food is digested, which ultimately interferes with a healthy metabolism and the weight loss process.

The liver processes toxins and breaks down fats for fuel and so is crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition. Alcohol can be extremely distructive on the liver's detoxification process.

Sports performance is impaired if you drink after you’ve had an injury. Alcohol causes the blood vessels to the skin, arms and legs to open up, thus the increased blood supply makes an injury bleed and swell even more. This means you’ll be out of action for longer because the recovery process slows down.

Testosterone is reduced whenever alcohol is consumed, which therefore prevents its full potential as a powerful fat burner. Testosterone contributes to gains in lean muscle mass because it is an anabolic hormone. Lowered testosterone therefore means fewer muscle gains, and less muscle means a lowered metabolic rate.

Alcohol can increase the potential for unusual heart rhythms. This risk significantly increases during exercise up to two days after heavy alcohol consumption because the activity itself already increases your heart rate and with a lot of alcohol in your system, you put extra stress on the organ. Other long-term impacts of alcohol such as heart disease, cancer and liver disease, could stop you taking part in exercise and sport altogether.

Whilst the odd drink every now and then is unlikely to do much damage, the best advice would be to totally abstain until performance and weight loss goals are obtained.

 

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