A Six-Pack or a Six-Pack?!
With St. Patricks day coming up and patio season just around the corner, cold beers and refreshing cocktails become increasingly harder to resist. Alcohol does have a definitive ‘holistic’ effect on your system but not necessarily in a good way.
We aren’t here to tell you that you shouldn’t consume alcohol, or that there is no way to fit these types of social situations into a nutrition program. Rather, we want to educate you on it’s effects so you can ensure your decisions are aligned to the progression towards your personal goals. A nutrition program should encompass all aspects of your life, as this is a vital component in increasing overall compliance to program, teaching balance and consistency over long periods of time and ensuring that your success is for life - not just the short term.
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. It can also inflame and scar other organs, leading to fatty liver, cirrhosis, hepatitis or pancreatitis. We also know that drinking 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 go around right about now.
Furthermore, alcohol also happens to be extremely calorie dense. In fact, it clocks around 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.
What about alcohol’s effects on training? Well, they’re numerous, that’s for sure. Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and actually decreases the amount of time spent in REM sleep resulting 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.
Finally, alcohol causes dehydration through its diuretic effect. No big surprise here, but what does this 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 the muscle hypertrophy and cardiomyopathies listed above.
In addition, once fluid balance is disrupted within the 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 in body weight 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 consume alcohol, 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 the occasional beverage, or you may find at times you need to reel it in (ie. for an upcoming competition or if alcohol consumption at any magnitude leads to more unfavourable decisions). For those times, be sure to check out one of our favourites, Juli Bauer’s collection of mind blowing mock-tails for both alcohol free and paleo inspired ideas, or feel free to talk to one of our nutritionists for tips to reduce or tailor your alcohol intake in support of your goals. Start here!