Ouch! My Liver!
“Here’s to sister Robin, sister Robin, sister Robin! Here’s to sister Robin who’s with us tonight! She’s happy, she’s jolly, she’s F**KED UP BY GOLLY! Here’s to sister Robin who’s with us tonight!”
Oh college, I remember you and your drinking songs fondly…
After college acrobatics and nabbing myself 2 national level gold medals I retired, only to become a stereotypical sorority girl – which meant drinking, partying, and apparently going to class enough to graduate with a decent grade point average and a degree in math. And then one day I WOKE UP and looked in the mirror and DIDN’T recognize the soft reflection in the mirror. Okay, time to hit the gym! But when did these weights become so heavy? And why can’t I run for more than 5 minutes straight?
You see, alcohol takes a tolling effect on the athletic body, and this is a subject that we here at Team Atrain get inquired about daily, so it’s time to address it. Whether you’re smashing weights in the gym, crushing it in crossfit, outside with the elements as a triathlete, you ARE an athlete and need to treat your body as such. As athletes, we typically focus on strong bones, healthy joints, powerful muscles, and lean bodies. All of these factors CAN be affected by habitual drinking. However, you are HUMAN and as humans, we’re social beings and often find ourselves in social situations that involve drinking. A glass of wine or a drink here and there is not going to ruin your progress and has actually found to be beneficial. So let’s discuss both of these aspects, the negatives and benefits of drinking.
If you choose to drink alcohol, ACCOUNT FOR IT! If you’re following a flexible dieting plan there is absolutely no reason not to track your drinks and make it fit. Typically you’re looking at about 75 calories from grain alcohol, 150 calories from wine or beer. The bulk of calories from drinking typically come from what you’re mixing the alcohol with. Then of course the alcohol calories will carry some carbs depending on what you’re drinking. So you can see one drink is pretty easy to fit in and still stay within macro guidelines, but drinking in excess – not so much! How often does that one or 2 drinks you plan on really end there? And if you do account for those drinks in your plan, how often does that lead to a run to Taco Bell or unaccounted snacking? More likely than not.
Chronic drinking is DETRIMENTAL to the body. And it always starts with just one sip, just one drink. Some days it spirals out of control and becomes habitual. When this happens you’re facing a myriad of problems. Chronic drinking leads to both bone loss as well as loss of skeletal muscle. The very things that make you strong and keep you active! Drinking leads to mitochondrial damage – which if you’re like me you’ve had “mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell” beat into your brain since your 3rd grade science class. The mitochondria are where ATP is created and that’s what powers our muscles. So when these little powerhouses are damaged, your strength and endurance are out the window. Although red wine can have some positive includes on your cholesterol levels, chronic drinking had an adverse effect and leads to fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
Now let’s say you have great self-control, are perfectly able to stick to just one drink after you train. I have some heart-breaking news for you about that glass of sake you’re enjoying with your post leg-day sushi… It inhibits muscle protein synthesis. Alcohol has been found to suppress the body’s anabolic response to skeletal muscle post-workout even it is being consumed with a protein source. That’s your GAINZ BRO! So you can kiss the idea of a chocolate protein shake mudslide goodbye!
So now that we’ve talked about the negatives, let’s dive into some benefits. Since alcohol impairs motor function, you do not want to drink before training. However after training it can serve a few little purposes. So beer… we know that our athletic bodies like carbs for performance and recovery. Beer is actually quite an incredible recovery drink following endurance exercises. Why? It’s a lot of water and quick digesting carbs, the exact things the body searches for after endurance events. Adding a pinch of salt to a light beer was found to help cyclists recovery quickly from training as well as balance their fluid levels. Since light beer has relatively low alcohol content the dehydrating effects of alcohol are generally not an issue with one or two beers.
I’ve heard claims that consuming alcohol lowers your testosterone levels and as we all know – testosterone is your best friend when you’re trying to build muscle. Alcohol does lower testosterone levels, but only when you’re drinking to the point that you need to be hospitalized or have spent a night drinking with a bunch of frat boys from Chico State. [A mistake I had to make 3 times to learn my lesson.] However, a bit of grain alcohol post workout was not only found to have no effect on the level of testosterone reached, but sustained the level significantly longer than not consuming grain alcohol post workout. Mind blown?
So now you’re thinking “Sweet! Drinking alcohol has all these awesome benefits after training. Let’s lift heavy sh*t and then go out and get wasteypants!” That is NOT at all what I’m saying. Here’s the thing, one or 2 drinks is fine. But we’re talking about a HIGHLY addictive substance.
So there you have it folks, the upsides and downsides to alcohol. It REALLY comes down to a personal choice of whether it’s something you want in your life, or something you don’t. I would not – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE – advise you to drink, ever. I wrote this to give you some researched information so that if you CHOOSE to drink, you now have a better understanding of what is happening within your body so that you can choose wisely.
Effects of Chronic Heavy Alcohol Consumption and Endurance Exercise on Cancellous and Cortical Bone Microarchitecture in Adult Male Rats. – Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014 Feb 11. doi: 10.1111/acer.12366.
Effect of a small dose of alcohol on the endurance performance of trained Cyclists – Alcohol Alcohol. 2009 May-Jun;44(3):278-83. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agn108. Epub 2009 Jan 9.
Effects of ethanol on lipid metabolism. – J Lipid Res. 1979 Mar;20(3):289-315.
Alcoholic myopathy and acetaldehyde. – Novartis Found Symp. 2007;285:158-77; discussion 177-82, 198-9.
Alcohol-induced autophagy contributes to loss in skeletal muscle mass. – Au
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Postresistance exercise ethanol ingestion and acute testosterone bioavailability. – Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Sep;45(9):1825-32. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31828d3767.
Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. – PLoS One. 2014 Feb 12;9(2):e88384. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088384.
Beer as a Sports Drink? Manipulating Beer’s Ingredients to Replace Lost Fluid. – Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2013 Dec;23(6):593-600.
A daily glass of red wine and lifestyle changes do not affect arterial blood pressure and heart rate in patients with carotid arteriosclerosis after 4 and 20 weeks. – Cerebrovasc Dis Extra. 2013 Oct 5;3(1):121-9. doi: 10.1159/000354847.