Alcohol is the most used drug in America. It is readily available and widely reported in the media. Some people start drinking as teens or young adults.
Athletes are also humans. While we devote a lot of time and resources to our sport that many people couldn’t fathom, we still have treats and lazy days with alcohol. No matter the reason, alcohol is almost always part of any training program. However, consuming five to ten alcoholic beverages in one night can adversely affect your brain, physical activity, and memory for up to three days.
Should athletes consume alcohol in-season? Where is the happy medium between these extremes of alcohol consumption? What does alcohol do to your mind and body?
Why Do Athletes Rely on Alcohol?
The alcohol consumption of student-athletes is higher than that of non-athletes. As many as 53.3% of student-athletes drink in excess during a month. Non-athletes, however, consume at a rate that is 41.2%. Although both athletes and non-athletes consume alcohol at similar rates, athletes tend to drink more alcohol.
Unfortunately, binge drinking while a student-athlete raises the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder. This can lead to problems later in life.
Many reasons can lead to alcohol dependence among athletes.
Calming the nerves: Athletes often feel nervous before games or other events. To reduce anxiety, they might drink the night before. However, excessive drinking can negatively affect their athletic performance.
Coping up with stress: Other than anxiety related to athletic performance, athletes face other stressors. These stressors may include finances, relationships, work, and child care. Student-athletes may also experience additional stress due to their education. Alcohol is only a temporary method of relieving stress. But, continued pressure can increase your risk of developing an AAUD.
Socialization: Maintaining happiness and preventing loneliness are key to a happy life. Athletes form a social circle with their team members, which helps them develop communication skills. Alcohol is a common way for athletes to bond with each other, whether it be going out to bars or attending parties. New members may feelpeer pressure thatencourages them to drink alcohol.
Muscle soreness or pain: The build-up of lactic acid causes muscle soreness. However, some athletes resort to alcohol to relieve the pain. Alcohol may provide temporary relief but chronic drinking may also cause lactic acid build-up. These extra lactic acids will create more discomfort and pain as soon as the effects of alcohol have subsided. Dehydration is also an issue. It will prevent your body from excreting excess lactic acid.
Celebration: Winning or making strides at sporting events calls for a celebration. Most athletes tend to drink more alcohol during victory parties.
How Does Alcohol Affect Athletic Performance
Many athletes drink alcohol without thinking about its effects on their performance. Each part of the body reacts differently to alcohol. Combining the many effects of alcohol can make it difficult for athletes to exercise or participate in sporting events. It can also increase the likelihood of injury.
The brain and central nervous systems can be adversely affected by alcohol. Drinking alcohol the night before or during a sporting event can slow down your reaction time and reduce hand-eye coordination. This is vital for all sports activities. Your balance and fine motor skills could suffer.
It is possible to not communicate well with your teammates and react negatively when another player passes the ball or charges in your direction. Drinking alcohol can also negatively impact your memory, making it difficult to remember designed plays or other important essential game rules.
Alcohol can cause depression and slow breathing. These effects can be more severe and even life-threatening if you consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Brain damage and other neurological problems can be caused by long-term alcohol abuse.
Hydration and Thermoregulation
You cannot replace lost fluids with alcohol. It is a well-known diuretic that helps eliminate fluids from your body via the liver and kidneys faster than other fluids. Drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration, and this causes hangovers. Alcohol can lead to multiple health problems.
Eggleton measured this effect and calculated an excess urine production of approximately 10 mL per gram of ethanol consumed. Rehydration drinks with 4% alcohol can slow down the recovery process and promote urine loss.
According to the 1982 American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand, alcohol should not be consumed before exercising. In the absence of thermal stress, small amounts of ethanol administered to volunteers at rest have very little impact on body temperature. However, large doses given before exercise at low ambient temperatures can cause increased peripheral vasodilatation and a significant drop in core temperature. This is in addition to the decrease in blood glucose, which greatly affects performance.
After intense training or competition, athletes must resynthesize glycogen stored in the liver and muscles. It is well-known that ethanol can have a range of effects on the metabolism of carbohydrates in skeletal muscles and the liver.
The majority of evidence is from studies that have been done on animals. These studies show that even low amounts of ethanol can cause impairments in glycogen synthesis in the liver and oxidative muscles but have no effects on type 2 muscle fibers. Even low levels of ethanol can cause impaired liver glucose output. This is especially important during moderate-intensity exercise, where glucose production from the liver can be a significant source of energy.
Burke et al. found that alcohol intake during recovery can result in a substantial decrease in carbohydrate stores.
Even though there isn't a direct metabolic impact of ethanol on glycogen stores when dietary carbohydrate consumption is high, athletes who consume large amounts of alcohol in the recovery period following training or competition may have reduced carbohydrate consumption. It is either because they have less total energy (non-alcohol) or they aren't following the recommended eating patterns.
Muscles and Bones
Strong bones and toned muscles are essential for athletic success. Athletes invest a lot of effort in maintaining their physical health. Drinking alcohol can have a significant impact on your bone and muscle health.
Alcohol abuse can lead to muscle cramps and pain. Even short-term alcohol use can slow down muscle growth. Strength is a key component of many athletes' ability to build muscle mass and improve their athletic performance. When they drink alcohol, they risk impacting muscle growth and performance.
Long-term usage can also affect bone growth or your ability to fix bone tissues. This makes you more susceptible to injuries and reduces your ability to heal damage.
An athlete who drinks alcohol increases the likelihood of suffering a sports-related injury. An athlete may be out of commission for a long time if he cannot heal quickly. Drinking while participating in athletics can result in multiple injuries that can prevent athletes from engaging in physical activity or sports for the rest of their lives.
The immune system can also be affected by regular alcohol consumption. It can be difficult to heal from injuries and illnesses if you have a weak immune system. You are more likely to get sick, which prevents you from participating in sporting events.
Metabolism & Nutrition
The nutritional value of alcohol is negligible to none. Drinking alcohol can increase weight gain and provide no health benefits. In addition to reducing nutritional value, alcohol can also hinder nutrient or vitamin absorption, which are essential for the proper functioning of various body systems. Although people may get enough vitamins from their diet, alcohol can reduce their absorption, which leads to problems related to athletic performance.
Alcohol consumption also affects the liver, which plays a key role in metabolism. Our bodies convert sugar to fatty acids when we consume alcohol. However, the liver is unable to metabolize these fatty acids properly. Sugars found in alcohol and mixed drinks can lead to weight gain, especially if they are high in empty calories like beer.
Athletes can be affected by weight gain in many ways. Extra weight can limit your endurance.
Does the Time You Drink Matter?
Different drinking times can have varying consequences on athletic performance. You should know how drinking times affect athletic performance and the risks involved.
Read more about these in our next blog.
The effects of alcohol on people vary greatly from one person to another due to many contributing factors. The impact of alcohol on athletic performance varies depending on the amount, demographics, exercise type, and how much. It is, therefore, difficult to make specific recommendations. However, it is recommended that athletes follow the same safe drinking guidelines as the general population.
Due to side effects that can interfere with athletic adaptations, binge drinking is not recommended. An athlete may not be able to perform at their best if they have binged on multiple occasions. Athletes should be encouraged not to drink alcohol after an event.