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Alcohol’s Effect on Performance

Alcohol’s Effect on Performance

When planning out your tough training sessions or even preparing for a big race or game, monitoring alcohol consumption is often top of mind. So why is it so important to pay attention to your alcohol consumption when prioritizing performance goals? 


Performance goals aside, alcohol has detrimental effects on the body in a multitude of ways ranging from neural function, metabolism, and nutrient absorption. Not only is alcohol itself void of any vitamins or minerals, but when consumed, it also prevents the absorption of essential nutrients such as thiamin, vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc. These nutrients are crucial for metabolizing nutrients, cell formation, and supporting the immune system.1Additionally, in regards to alcohol’s impact on performance, it can have a negative impact on mental sharpness, muscle recovery, hydration, and overall performance.


Mental Sharpness:

Many people are familiar with the image of a person stumbling when inebriated and not being able to control their movements. Well, unsurprisingly, alcoholconsumptioncan slow reaction time, which can impact more than just physical performance, but also can affect precision, hand-eye coordination, accuracy, balance, and focus. These consequences can last up to 72 hours after alcohol intake.2Not only can this impact athletic performance, but even your workday or daily tasks. 


Muscle Recovery:

When it comes to recovery, both protein and carbohydrates are important nutrients to consume post-workout. Alcohol, however, is a poor source of nutrients and often replaces carbohydrates during post-workout fueling for people. This can lead to poor recovery and even poor training.2Additionally, this can lead to an elevated risk for injury and even illness. Regular alcohol consumption impairs immune function and causes delayed healing. 


When you are stressed out or can’t sleep, it may be tempting to reach for a nightcap. However, alcohol can actually disrupt your circadian rhythms and lead to fragmented, restless sleep. Getting enough restful sleep is essential for muscle building, repair, and overall recovery.3


Hydration:

Because alcohol is a strong diuretic, it can quickly lead to dehydration. Being well hydrated is an essential element for performance.  Dehydration can impair temperature regulation, weaken the heart’s pumping force, and accelerate fatigue. All together these conditions contribute to poor performance.2


Due to alcohol’s diuretic properties, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is especially contraindicated when rehydration is the goal. Additionally, when dehydrated, there is a greater risk of cramping, and pulling or straining a muscle. 


Strength and Endurance:

Alcohol has been shown to impact muscle growth by diminishing protein synthesis. Even short-term use can impact muscle growth and strength.As mentioned previously, alcohol inhibits nutrient absorption and therefore can impact endurance due to fatigue and low energy availability.3


Overall, alcohol consumption can negatively impact performance in many ways and determining how much and when you want to include it in your eating pattern is important to consider, especially if you have performance goals. A few helpful questions to ask yourself are:

  • How important is it that I perform to the best of my ability?
  • How will my body feel if I drink? How will I feel if I don't drink?
  • What can I do instead of drinking heavily? Can I find moderation in my drinking?
  • At what times can I fit alcohol into my diet without it interfering with my goals?

Recommendations: If including alcohol is something you enjoy in your lifestyle, here are a couple of tips with performance in mind:

  • Pre-event: Avoid alcohol for 48 hours before the event to ensure you are feeling and performing your best. 
  • Post-exercise: Rehydrate first and consume food before drinking to slow alcohol absorption.2


Summary:
Didn’t have time to read the whole article? Here’s what you need to know! Alcohol can be to blame for more than just your hangover the next day and can also have negative implications on your performance in various ways. For example, mental sharpness, muscle recovery, hydration, strength, and endurance. Paying attention to alcohol intake surrounding important events and training sessions is a great way to ensure you are able to feel and perform your best! 

What’s Next?
Alcohol affects everyone slightly differently. If you are wondering how your body metabolizes alcohol, test for your alcohol tolerance here. Understanding your risks and how to minimize them is important. When it comes to maximizing your athletic performance, knowing where to start when making changes to your diet and lifestyle is an important step. Meeting with a nutrition professional may help provide additional guidance. Gaining a better understanding of how your body may respond to certain nutrients or eating patterns to further customize your diet and optimize your health can be a great first step. Learn more about how DNA testing and personalized nutrition can help you eat right for your genes.


References: 

  1. Braun, Perrin. “How Does Alcohol Affect Your Athletic Performance?” How Does Alcohol Affect Your Athletic Performance?, https://blog.insidetracker.com/how-does-alcohol-affect-your-athletic-performance. 
  2. Karpinski, Christine, and Christine Rosenbloom.Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017. 
  3. Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery.Nutrients,2(8), 781–789. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080781https://super.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/staying-safe/alcohol-and-athletic-performance
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Written by:

Frankie O'Brien, MS, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

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