Alcohol: 5 biggest impacts on your fitness

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Alcohol has barely been a part of my life for a few years now. I drank for the first time in 2018 a couple of weeks ago. I’ve become such a lightweight that my tab was as small as my calves (#teamnocalves) and I couldn’t even make it to midnight. Having a kid definitely changes things. I can’t say that I miss it much at all. I started to feel healthier and more energetic once I put those heavy party days of my youth behind me. Not that I’m exactly old but after reaching the end of my 20s (I’m 31 now) I felt that it was the right time to say goodbye to hangovers. Some might call me boring. Others might call me VERY boring.

Apart from feeling like crap, what are the actual negative effects on our health and fitness? It’s a question that would be relevant to a lot of people that try to keep a healthy lifestyle but also like to enjoy a drink or two….or three.

Alcohol contributes to fat storage

There are 7 calories per gram of alcohol, 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, 4 calories per gram of protein, and 9 calories per gram of fat.  When you consume too many calories it can result it weight gain regardless of where these surplus calories come from. The alcohol calories themselves do not directly convert to body fat. The alcohol gets absorbed by the bloodstream and then goes to the liver. Our body will start to use the alcohol as its primary energy source because we cannot store alcohol in the body. The problem is that alcohol slows down fat oxidation. Carbs and dietary fats are now directed to storage rather than being burned off. More often than not we tend to choose less healthy/higher calorie options when our inhibitions are lowered. Not only are we eating too much because of the alcohol, our ability to burn off the extra calories is reduced while there is alcohol in our system. This is why eating high fat junk foods is such a bad idea when you drink alcohol. A chicken breast salad with no dressing anyone?

Lack of nutrition

There is no real physiological benefit of drinking more than a glass of wine in one sitting. It is the least satiating nutrient that you can grab your hands on. It even makes you feel hungrier in most cases. 200 calories that you get from a beer will not suppress your appetite more than 200 calories worth of a tuna steak. If you use up too much of your daily calories on alcohol then it leaves little room for real nutritious food, unless you’re willing to exceed your normal calorie intake. Of course this will lead to weight gain based on the reasons discussed on the first point.

Lowers testosterone in the long term

Excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time can reduce testosterone in men by up to 45%. Reduced testosterone has a terrible effect of metabolism, ability to build muscle, libido, and overall energy levels. If you want to keep making gains then stop binge drinking!

Reduces protein synthesis

Protein synthesis is strongly reduced when you consume a lot of alcohol. Although adequate protein consumption can help offset some of the negative effects from alcohol, protein synthesis will still be affected. When we train it’s important for our recovery that we are able to rebuild and build muscle effectively. Cutting down on alcohol from my life made it much easier to take my training to the next level.

Negative effects on next day training

The hangover from drinking will always make training the next day an arduous task. I’d recommend planning a rest day after a night out drinking. It’s hard to get a quality night’s rest because our REM sleep gets shortchanged with alcohol in our system.  This is partly the reason why we wake up feeling groggy after drinking the day before. Marijuana will also reduce our REM sleep interestingly enough.

The purpose of this blog is to try and not put people off from drinking. Far from it. It’s just important to know how it can affect our health and fitness goals. Moderation is key and when we want to truly maximize our progress in the gym, it’s probably better to cut down our alcohol intake as much as possible. A couple glasses of wine on the occasional date night with my wife still has its appeal, even to me!

Written by Rishi Haria – Strength & Nutrition Coach

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