Moving swiftly on with Part 2 where I further delve into how alcohol affects athletic performance. In case you missed out, Part 1 focused on the effects of alcohol on the systems of the body.
In the view of an athlete maximising performance, the importance of recovering from training sessions and matches is well documented. The overall recovery process is an exceptionally broad topic therefore it will be covered more extensively at a later stage. The aim of this article however is to hit on the main points concerning the impact that alcohol has on recovery & injury.
Depending on multiple factors such as the individual athlete, pre-training nutrition, intensity of session etc, glycogen stores can be reduced if not depleted during exercise. Research shows that refuelling adequately in the early post exercise period (0-4h) with a carbohydrate and protein meal is vital to optimize the re-synthesis of glycogen. However, alcohol, can impair the synthesis ( of glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscle and there is evidence to suggest it can reduce glucose output.Therefore, by consuming alcohol and having a relaxed attitude towards refuelling, may indeed have a negative effect on the following performance, be it a training session or an event.
Post Session Rehydration
Sweating can cause dehydration, where over 5% of bodyweight can be lost. Dehydration impairs performance, therefore it is vital to have an optimal recovery strategy where hydration levels and electrolytes are restored.
Alcohol is a diuretic. The inhibition of the enzyme ‘alcohol dehydrogenase’ by ethanol was found to be the reason for this, however it only occurs in drinks that contain 4%+ volume of alcohol. It results in higher urine output - which reduces the recovery rate of blood volume and extends recovery from the dehydrated state. Alcohol is also a peripheral vasodilator meaning it enlarges blood vessels, increasing fluid loss through evaporation thus increasing dehydration which could already be present depending on an athletes training schedule and nutrition.
Injury is part and parcel of sport. Soft tissue injuries require treatment involving reduction of blood flow to the affected area with strategies such as compression. Alcohol consumption may have the opposite effect. Alcohol has a vasodilator effect on the skin and has a vasoconstrictor effect on muscle. Studies on animals have seen changes in the usual response to trauma. Vasopressin, adrenaline and noradrenaline are inhibited when alcohol is consumed. The inability to limit blood flow may add to the severity of the site of injury and impact the outcome of the injury. The risk of further injury is also increased when drinking because decision making is compromised along with the ability react. Unfortunately there have been incidents of athletes becoming tied up in avoidable situations had it perhaps not been for intoxication…
To sum up this 2 part series, athletes should consider the impact alcohol will have on their athletic performance and overall health. Rethink your drink!
Founder & CEO of Be Ready Training | Strength & Conditioning Coach