Alcohol, Health and Athletic Performance

This is college. Alcohol is a part of the culture. Drinking on football game days, for a friend’s 21st birthday and even on some random Thursday nights is the norm. It’s no secret that alcohol consumption by college students is typically abused. What may be more surprising is that alcohol can be a part of an overall healthy diet if used wisely.

While exercise will expend some of the empty calories, there’s no denying alcohol abuse drastically decreases athletic performance.

Note that these negative effects are dose responsive, which means if you have a few beers it won’t be a huge issue, but as you consume more, the following effects increase:

Decrease in muscle protein synthesis – Muscle gain or loss is a result of the difference between protein synthesis and breakdown. If an individual is chronically using alcohol, this will limit their protein synthesis.

Decrease in testosterone and HGH – Researchers at Notre Dame showed alcohol can decrease HGH release up to 70 percent. HGH plays a role in recovery from exercise.

Causes dehydration – Increases urine output by reducing the amount of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) in the body. Studies have shown bodyweight losses of as little as 1-2 percent decrease athletic performance.

Empty calories – While not every calorie you consume needs to be as nutritious as spinach, alcohol is essentially full of empty calories, which can easily lead to a caloric surplus and unwanted weight gain. Indirectly, it can also lead to other poor food decisions, like fast food cravings.

Inhibits nutrients – Alcohol intake can inhibit thiamin, B12, folic acid and zinc, all which are important for general health and performance.

Research has shown that five or more alcoholic beverages can affect the brain and body for up to three days. That crazy Saturday night doesn’t only impair you for Sunday – it can also leak into the next week of preparation.

Don’t hate me just yet. Alcohol can be healthy in moderation. It can act as a psychological release from a hard week of training and studies. The general rule is one or two drinks per day. No, this doesn’t mean you can save up for 7-14 on Saturday night.

While it is possible to look and perform at a high level while abusing alcohol, you must ask yourself, “Are my actions in line with my goals?” If so, great! But if you aren’t where you want to be and alcohol is an issue, moderating your use goes a long way toward achieving your goals.

Added notes: For a great read on alcohol and controlling body composition I recommend reading "The Science of Binge Drinking" by Bayesian Bodybuilding.