Why Alcohol and Training Don’t Mix

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Why Alcohol and Training Don’t Mix

As a group, athletes are more conscious of the food we eat than the non sporting population. However what is the point of slow carb meals and protein if we don’t also consider what we are drinking!

Alcohol consumption is a part of sport in Australia. In fact, sports participants in Australia report higher than average alcohol consumption rates compared to the general, non sporting population (earning the right to have a few drinks?).

Why Alcohol and Training Dont Mix 1A dietary survey of elite Australian Rules football players revealed that large amounts of alcohol were consumed postgame; these self-reported practices were confirmed by the high prevalence of positive blood alcohol readings when blood samples were collected from these players at a training session on the morning after a match.

And while this behaviour is accepted as a part of team culture, surprisingly little research exists on the effects of such behaviour on performance and recovery after exercise.

The fitness industry’s anti-alcohol stance is in a large part due to the nutritional content of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages are calorically very dense and packed with sugar.

However the effects of alcohol on training are much greater than increased calories.

Magnifies Muscle Damage from Strenuous Exercise

When performing strenuous exercise, there is a ‘normal’ amount of muscle damage.

When consumed after strenuous exercise, alcohol magnifies the normal exercise induced muscle damage and the delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS by interacting directly with the exercising muscles.

In addition to increased soreness, this prolongs muscle recovery (see more below).

Post-exercise alcohol ingestion exacerbates eccentric-exercise induced losses in performance.

Why Alcohol and Training Dont Mix 2Decreased Muscle Building

The ‘normal’ muscle damage referenced above provides the stimulus for muscle growth. Our muscles are forced to adapt to this muscle damage by rebuilding larger and stronger muscles.

Testosterone is one of the important hormonal signals that is released in the body after exercise induced muscle damage to start the rebuilding process.

Alcohol consumption immediately post exercise has been found testosterone release, thereby reducing the signal to the muscle to start the rebuilding process.

In addition to reducing the signal for muscle building, alcohol inhibits muscle building at the level of the muscle. This means the actual building of muscle is slowed down an additional 20% or more!

The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and cortisol in males

Inhibition of muscle protein synthesis by alcohol is associated with modulation of eIF2B and eIF4E.

Impairs Rehydration

The diuretic effect of alcohol has been recognized for many years.

Therefore it is natural to assume that alcohol consumption post exercise, causing dehydration due to sweat loss, would be counterproductive.

And indeed it is for alcoholic beverages above 4%. Only when the alcoholic beverage was above 4% was the fluid retention affected significantly. There was a significant reduction in the rate of recovery of blood volume when the 4% alcohol beverage was consumed. Overall, there was a tendency for the extent of the recovery to be inversely proportional to the alcohol content of the beverage.

Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption.

Increased Fat Retention

In addition to increased calories, alcohol has been found to decrease your body’s fat burning. In a study done by the American Journal of Clinical Research they concluded that just 2 standard drinks per day (24g of alcohol) showed whole-body lipid oxidation (the rate at which your body burns fat) decreased by 73%.

Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise.

Why Alcohol and Training Dont Mix 3 Decreased Repeat Performance

Not only are the long term benefits of your training effected by alcohol consumption, but your immediate repeat performance is also effected.

In a study of 10 senior male Rugby Union players, post exercise alcohol consumption decreased power output as measured by countermovement jump performance up to 48 hours post training.

Based on the previous studies referenced in this article we can assume that the decrease in physical performance is due to an interaction between alcohol and muscle damage caused by the initial training.

The effects of acute alcohol consumption on recovery from a simulated rugby match


Recommendations

Don’t worry. The recommendation is not to stop drinking completely. Given the research it would be unrealistic to expect Australian athletes to be able to stop. Even though the research clearly indicates that alcohol has few benefits for training!

Instead here are a few general recommendations about training and drinking:

  • Avoid alcohol if you are trying to lose weight – like you would avoid McDonalds or KFC
  • Do not drink alcohol after strenuous training in particular weights training sessions working above 50% of your maximum capacity, 1RM
  • Do not drink alcohol when you have to ‘back up’ and need to physically perform the following day


If you follow these two recommendations at least you can limit the damage alcohol does to your training, and still enjoy a beer or wine!


Cameron West
Cameron is the Director of Pro Training Programs

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