Alcohol

Sorry to break the news: Step away from the bar
By Jacqueline R. Berning

 alcohol  

If it’s water instead of beer in that cup, this hefty fellow will be a lot better off.

 In the early 1900s, marathon runners were given brandy during races. Like strychnine, a deadly poison, alcohol was thought to enhance physical performance.

Even today, some athletes believe that small doses of alcohol will aid their athletic performance by reducing tension and enhancing self-confidence.

Unfortunately, many are poorly informed about the effects of alcohol.

Due to quick absorption and fairly high energy content, alcohol has been viewed as a potential work-enhancing agent. In fact, just the opposite is true.

Alcohol can diminish physiological functions needed in sports. In one study, nine healthy men from 21 to 26 drank in one hour the legal limit for driving in most states. The result was a depression in contractions by their left ventricles.

In other words, it was harder for the heart to get blood and oxygen out to the rest of the body. The researchers concluded that alcohol was toxic to the heart, even in young, healthy adults.

Alcohol also slows the respiratory rate; it is classified as a depressant. And this is just the opposite effect that the athlete really wants.

The American College of Sports Medicine has a position statement regarding the use of alcohol in sports. The two key points in the statement are:

  • Consuming a large amount of alcohol at one time can limit skills that require reaction time, balance, accuracy and hand-eye coordination.
  • Alcohol decreases strength, speed, power, muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance.

Consuming a large amount of alcohol at one time can limit skills that require reaction time, balance, accuracy and hand-eye coordination.

  • Alcohol decreases strength, speed, power, muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance.

In the exercise recovery phase, alcohol has been found to interfere with loading of carbohydrates in muscles and to lengthen the recovery and rehabilitation period from injury.

In short, drinking alcohol will decrease an athlete’s ability to train and play hard.

Some athletes mistakenly believe that they can load up on carbohydrates by drinking beer. But a 12-ounce beer provides 16 grams of carbohydrate. This is less than the amount found in some sports beverages and about one-third of that found in 12 ounces of fruit juice.

While beer may serve as a beverage during social functions, it and other alcoholic drinks don’t serve the purpose of a carbohydrate-loading drink during the preparation for sports competition.

A major source of energy found in beer is alcohol, which is not found in juices or sports drinks. The truth is that although alcohol is absorbed quickly, the energy from alcohol is obtained slowly when it is metabolized in the liver, not in the muscles. So the net effect is that not much advantage is gained.

For muscle energy, alcohol contributes little or nothing. And in general, alcohol is burned at a slow rate, whether one is sprinting or passed out on the floor.

Because alcohol stimulates the kidneys to produce urine, alcohol consumption can make the body lose fluids and become dehydrated.

For example, alcohol can produce a 3 percent loss of body weight (as fluid loss) within four hours of consumption. Such dehydration has a negative effect on performance, particularly endurance, and increases the risk of heat illness during exercise.

A major concern with alcohol consumption in certain groups of athletes is not only the amount of alcohol consumed, but also the drinking pattern.

Binge drinking is periodically consuming large amounts of alcohol. This most commonly happens on weekends or after big competitions.

One option available for athletes of legal age who like to celebrate after competition is to choose non-alcoholic beverages. For those who enjoy champagne or beer, sparkling ciders and non-alcoholic beers have become popular. Instead of drinking a cocktail, an athlete could drink tomato juice with a slice of lime and a stalk of celery, or sparkling water with a twist.

Most athletes who consume alcohol believe that once the “high” is over, so are the effects of alcohol on the body. But alcohol’s adverse effects linger long after its blood concentration has fallen to zero.

Reaction time, balance, power, coordination, strength and speed are a few of the physical capacities that remain compromised the morning after a night of drinking, even when the drinking is moderate. Alcohol also interferes with a multitude of chemical and hormonal reactions in the body.

Understanding that alcohol is a metabolic poison that can hinder performance hopefully will deter athletes from drinking and harming their performance.

 


 

 Give Yourself a Break

How many hours before competition should I stop drinking alcoholic beverages?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively. A safe rule of thumb would be 48 hours. Alcohol has several properties that could potentially impair performance. First and perhaps foremost, alcohol is a diuretic and therefore could promote dehydration. Needless to say, entering a match dehydrated will have negative consequences. Stopping 48 hours before competition should provide adequate time for rehydration.

Scott Powers, PhD, professor, University of Florida

This is a difficult question to answer definitively. A safe rule of thumb would be 48 hours. Alcohol has several properties that could potentially impair performance. First and perhaps foremost, alcohol is a diuretic and therefore could promote dehydration. Needless to say, entering a match dehydrated will have negative consequences. Stopping 48 hours before competition should provide adequate time for rehydration.

Scott Powers, PhD, professor, University of Florida

 


 

 

Jacqueline Berning, PhD, R.D., is an associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

For more information on health-related topics, please visit the Gatorade Sports Science Institute

Web site at www.gssiweb.com.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *