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Alcohol and performance: 8 ways drinking negatively affects your body

health and fitness Sep 01, 2022

You probably know that when it comes to drinking, moderation is key. But it’s important to understand how alcohol actually works within our bodies so we can make conscious decisions whether it’s worth it to consume it and, if so, when and how much we will consume. 

Over the past decade, more research has come out about this and, if you enjoy a cold one, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s not all bad news and you don’t have to completely swear off alcohol to live a happy, healthy life. 

Whether you are an athlete training for a big game or an average person wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, knowing your limits with alcohol and setting boundaries is important. 

Understanding alcohol’s effects 

Nearly 70% of people over the age of 18 in most industrialized areas drink alcohol. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a spirit from time to time, consuming more than just a few servings a week has a negative impact on health. 

One way to achieve a healthy relationship with alcohol is to understand it. Here is some food for thought to consider when deciding if it’s “worth it.” 

  • Initial impairment -  Since alcohol compromises our motor skills, it increases risk of injury. For athletes, this is definitely something to keep in mind if you are training and working toward specific fitness goals. Also, has a night out ever ended in a big juicy burger and fried foods for you? If you answer, no - I’m impressed. Drinking impairs our decision making so even the most disciplined eater might end up splurging on calorie-dense foods after a few drinks.  
  • Weight gain - Many alcoholic beverages are high in calories and sugar which leads to weight gain. One beer every night adds more than 1,000 calories per week, resulting in an additional 15 pounds of belly fat per year. While there are lighter options out there now like seltzers, any form of alcohol slows down the body’s ability to burn calories while exercising. 
  • Inhibits muscle growth - Alcohol also impairs the body’s ability to build muscle since alcohol makes it harder to process adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the primary energy resource for muscles and decreases human growth hormone (HGH) levels, which is also a critical factor in muscle growth. 
  • Disturbs digestion and gut health - Our digestive systems are extremely complex and impacted by so many organs and parts of our bodies. The stomach, intestines, throat, mouth, esophagus, liver, pancreas, and anus all work together to properly digest food and fuel our bodies and alcohol impacts all of them. As a result, you might notice stomach pain, diarrhea, or bloating after drinking. Serious conditions like IBS, liver disease, pancreatitis, and many others can be caused with ongoing consumption. 
  • Blocks nutrients -  Since calories from alcohol are prioritized over carbs, fats, and proteins in our bodies, consuming alcohol inhibits the amount of nutrients that our bodies are receiving⁠. It also increases blood sugar and decreased insulin sensitivity⁠ so heavy alcohol abuse over time could lead to serious illnesses like malnourishment or even heart disease and diabetes. 
  • Disrupts hormones - For men, alcohol lowers testosterone production and  stimulates conversion to estrogen⁠. For women, drinking, even “light” drinking averaging one drink per day, can also cause elevated levels of estradiol, a form of estrogen, and can change the reproductive system, increase risk of breast cancer, and alter how our body processes hormones. 
  • Disturbs sleep - GABA is an inhibitor that is released when we consume alcohol and is the reason why alcohol might initially make drinkers sleepy but then keep them tossing and turning at night. Sleep is critical for good health. Our bodies are able to self restore and recover through a deep sleep. Since alcohol interrupts these sleep cycles, our bodies don’t get to recoup. 
  • Causes dehydration - When drinking, our anti-diuretic hormones (ADH) are released causing us to urinate more and - boom - dehydrate. In fact, one drink can add 150 mL in urinary output. If you plan to drink, consuming water in between beverages is critical. 

Understanding hangovers 

Yes, hangovers are partly the result of the poor food choices, disturbed sleep, and dehydration mentioned above, but did you know that hangovers are actually also our bodies responding to a withdrawal from alcohol? Also, we all know that our judgment and cognition is impaired while drinking, but a heavy binge of drinking can actually impact us for several days. Drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in one night can decrease cognitive function for up to 3 days! 

So, are there any benefits to drinking? 

While they’re heavily debated, some scientists over the years have studied the benefits of alcohol. You might’ve seen headlines like “a glass of red wine a day is good for you!” and “beer in moderation is actually good for your gut.” The truth is, these studies mostly show that benefits like stress reduction have been found when consuming very modest quantities. 

Drink smart 

Realistically, I understand that alcohol is very much a part of our society and social interactions in Western culture and, if you really enjoy a drink from time to time, deprivation might not be the best option for you. Here are some tips to “drink smart.” 

  • Drink choice is key - Not all alcohol is the same so, if you decide to drink, look at your options. Red wine is typically a good option. It contains antioxidants and there are some sulfate free, low-sugar, and organic wines out there that will help you to enjoy a glass or two while making it easier to bounce back. 
  • Hydrate!! I mentioned this previously, but while hydration is always important, it’s especially critical when drinking. Hydrating with water in between drinks and after drinking will help you to recover and get back to your routine. If you’re in a social setting, finding sparkling water or another non-alcoholic beverage to drink in place of or in-between drinks is a great option. 

 It’s okay to have a drink from time to time if that is something you enjoy

The bottom line is that, if you enjoy drinking and are medically able, it’s okay to have a drink from time to time if that is something you enjoy. However,  it’s important that you understand how alcohol works within your body and the role that it plays in the “bigger picture.” 

With that said, I am certainly a big believer in mindset and not beating yourself up if you do lapse on your fitness or nutrition regimens. After all, balance is key! But, especially for my clients and others that are committed to their health goals, I encourage you to consistently weigh your priorities and make decisions based on your goals. 

If you do drink alcohol frequently and want to make a change, consider your mindset around it. Do you view alcohol as a treat? What about a stress reliever? Understand why you drink and adjust your lifestyle to reduce alcohol consumption if it’s holding you back from your larger goals. 

Stay focused and make the decisions that are right for you! 


**This is not medical advice. Consult with a doctor for personalized medical advice.** 

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