And it happens to the best of us that the weekend comes and our approach to the healthy lifestyle of the weekdays goes straight out the window. And yet, although we all know it, we choose to ignore that mere fact that this unbalanced approach to alcohol could be a hugely limiting factor in achieving the fitness goals we aim for.
Year on year, more of us are taking up fitness as a hobby and participating in new sports to upkeep our fitness, and yet our interest in alcohol’s effect on our progress seems to be pretty non-existent. We can- as a nation- be seen to look blindly at food calories and choose to be ignorant towards those calories gained from alcohol (as well as the additional negative effects of the drug!) because we seem to forget that alcohol can play huge part in our diet and forget it’s detrimental effects on progression.
So, what goes on in our bodies when we combine exercise with alcohol?
Well, firstly we can learn that alcohol is a diuretic- this indicates that it causes our bodies to dehydrate. When we work out, and sweat, the combined effects of the alcohol and the workout can increase our risk of dehydration significantly which can in turn reduce the blood flow to muscles in need of nutrients and oxygen. This will reduce our performance and cause our bodies to overheat as hydration will keep our body temperature under control- without this we will lose the ability to do so and eventually overheat and fail to perform.
After hydration, we also have to look at the effects on energy levels. In order to exercise efficiently, our bodies need high levels of sugar to provide energy to work. When we try to break down alcohol, our liver is focused solely on breaking down these substances and as a result cannot produce enough glucose to support exercising to our full potential. Our blood sugar levels will be low. This can be overcome as he body will use fat as it’s Plan B source of energy, however, our efforts will be less and energy levels lower than normal. This is turn will have a detrimental effect on balance, speed, agility, coordination and strength- basically giving you a workout with half the potential of the alcohol-free you!
So you wake up after a big night out and decide the best thing to do is to hit the gym? A thought many have to overcome that fearful post-session lull. However, as discussed above, the body’s fight to clear the alcohol means the liver is working hard to cleanse the blood and as a result will not be clearing lactic acid from the muscles. As a result, we will tire quickly and will perform at a lower level than our bodies can take, making it potentially a waste of time.
Often in the fitness world we have total understanding of the effects of alcohol- so we rarely drink- only on special occasions, and when we drink- we really go for it, it’s one night? Why not?! This unfortunately is binge drinking and it happens to the best of us! But this is exactly what we are learning is the worst way to be. This over-consumption causes our testosterone levels to drop which increases cortisol levels which is a hormone that can destroy our muscles. It is protein synthesis that creates and builds muscle and when we drink in excess, this process is impaired and our bodies can no longer build the muscles we work hard for. The growth hormones we need for this process are also produced when we sleep deeply... so if we have disrupted sleep when we drink alcohol- we further disrupt our ability to grow muscle as these hormones cannot be released. So, are we really able to build muscle tone in the gym if the hormones we need to do so are in low supply? Perhaps not!
But remember, all of the above should not be taken as a preach on teetotal behaviour and heavy workouts versus boycotting of the gym to drown yourself in alcohol, balance and key and take these facts as knowledge of what might be happening to our bodies under gym pressures with restraints of alcohol effects.