Physical Effects of Alcohol on Athletes

The physical effects of alcohol on athletes can range from dehydration, lack of performance, lack of endurance and energy levels and poor recovery time. Alcohol is the most common drug abused by athletes and it can have a considerable effect on their ability to train and perform.

effects of alcoholAlcohol and caffeine have something in common, both are diuretics. A diuretic is a food, drink or medicine that increases the amount of urine your body releases. Too much alcohol or caffeine can lead to dehydration. For athletes, dehydration from a loss of as little as 1-2% of overall body mass can cause a drop in performance. Mixing the physical effects of alcohol and sweating during exercise can make dehydration more likely to occur. Dehydration decreases blood flow which is needed to circulate oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

Alcohol is like a bully on the playground, it needs all of the attention. When alcohol is consumed, the body automatically gives it priority over other functions in order to get rid of it. The liver puts most of its effort into breaking down alcohol and its by-products. This slows the release of glucose into the blood stream, the main energy source for your muscles. This leads to a drop in performance from a lack of energy but also from a change in concentration, coordination, dexterity, and reaction time. When alcohol is absorbed and moves into body cells, it can disrupt the water balance. A lack of water in muscle cells reduces their ability to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the compound used as fuel when muscles contract. Low ATP levels causes a lack of energy and endurance.

The other function that is slowed down is the breakdown of lactic acid your muscles produce when you exercise. This will cause a lack of strength and power, and you will be more likely to tire faster. The liver is simply working too hard getting rid of toxic by-products in your system.

Athletes in most sports are trying to gain muscle mass but the physical effects of alcohol have a drastic effect on this as well. Alcohol can change your sleep patterns which directly affects the human growth hormones (HGH) that are released during deep sleep. Some studies have shown that alcohol can reduce HGH levels by as much as 70%. Alcohol can also reduce testosterone levels in your blood which is linked to decreases in lean muscle mass and muscle recovery. HGH and testosterone are both used by your body for muscle growth.  Sleep is really important to give muscles the rest they need to grow.

Binge drinking alcohol (excess amounts) can poison muscle fibres causing them to not respond to exercise like they should for as much as three days.

Sports injuries requires down time to allow the affected area to heal. The recovery process will slow down with alcohol use. Alcohol will cause blood vessels to open up increasing blood supply to the injury causing more bleeding and swelling.

Alcohol and Nutrition

effects of alcoholNext to fat, alcohol has the second most calories per gram of any food or drink you can consume at 7 cal/gram.  Like fat, your muscles can’t use these calories as fuel. Alcohol and fat are never converted to glycogen (stored energy) so are a useless energy source for your muscles during exercise. The calories are converted into fatty acids instead. One of the bad physical effects of alcohol is that it directly increases fat storage, which makes the term “beer belly” very accurate.

Alcohol has no nutritional value meaning it has no protein, vitamins or minerals. Not only that, but it also slows the body’s ability to absorb them from food.

Exercise and a Hangover

Hangovers are a direct result of dehydration, alcohol toxicity and the effects of some of the by-products of fermentation found in most alcohols. Symptoms include depression, headache, nausea and soreness. These can cause a decrease of as much as 11% in aerobic capacity.

The physical effects of alcohol make good performance in sports pretty hard to accomplish. If you are going to drink, do t at least 48 hours before a competition or workout, drink just one or two and eat food as well.  Rehydrating with as much water as the amount of alcohol you consumed will help as well.

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