Today’s entry discusses the topic of alcohol as it relates to athletic performance and recovery, as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”
Q: What are the effects of alcohol on athletic performance?
A: The data are incredibly clear. Alcoholic beverages specifically impact reaction time for up to five days and for at least three days after consumption. And yet consumption of often quite large quantities of alcohol post-competition or post-exertion is prevalent in virtually all sports. The pressure of performance is high, and athletes turn to alcohol after to relieve this pressure. However, it can take up to a week to recover from this type of consumption. This is the problem with acute alcohol intake.
There’s also a problem with a chronic consumption of alcohol at not such a high intake. Alcohol is an anti-nutrient. It inhibits the production of a number of B-vitamin coenzymes that are required for nutrients to be absorbed, so you can get de facto vitamin deficiencies even in the presence of those vitamins because alcohol blocks the coenzyme production. This is just one way that alcohol interferes with the body’s use of nutrients. Another example of interference happens with retinol, the precursor to vitamin A. [For more on this, read Alcohol, Vitamin A, and Beta-Carotene: Adverse Interactions, Including Hepatotoxicity and Carcinogenicity.]
I understand if you’re not an athlete having a drink in the evening to relax. And in fact, there are a couple of new studies out looking at beer consumption as a post-activity replenishment beverage. As a post-exercise replenishment, a moderate amount of beer may not be bad if you’re not going to exercise again in the next few days or do another sporting event for a month. The relaxing effect of alcohol is valid, and it can potentially help you remove metabolic by-products more efficiently – but only if you’re not exercising or participating in an event for a long period of time afterwards.
Alcohol works against athletic performance both acutely and chronically. The bottom line is that if you’re actively involved in athleticism, lay low. In other words, if you want to drink alcohol, drink. If you want to be an athlete, be an athlete.
(For more on the potential effects of alcohol consumption on athletic performance and recovery, read ESPN.com Special Section on Drugs & Sports: Alcohol; Alcohol: Impact on Sports Performance and Recovery in Male Athletes; and What I Do and the Science Behind It (9): Alcohol.)
This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.
One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!