Alcohol and Exercise

A. Snatch Practice

B. 1 Mile Run

30 Toes to Bar

15 Squat Snatches (135/95)

Alcohol and Exercise

Now that the NBC is over, it’s time to reflect on how we did as a community. From your recorded journals and the feedback I have been getting, the discipline for the food part of the challenge has been very good. However, alcohol consumption seems to be a place of concern for some. It seemed that many (including myself) conceded that alcohol “is just an unavoidable part of my life.” Alcohol is omnipresent; it exists and is meant to be consumed at nearly every social situation we take part in. This post is not designed to address the social/psychological issues on why we drink alcohol.  It is to inform and educate the reader about what effects alcohol has on the body and how it relates to exercise.

Alcohol will make you store fat

When alcohol is in the blood stream, it becomes the body’s #1 priority. Alcohol must be metabolized and processed immediately, while fat and carbohydrates are pushed aside and stored as fat. This fat is often stored in the abdomen and termed the “beer belly” in men and the “muffin top” in women (not the most flattering descriptions).  Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and these calories are considered empty calories. Not only do these calories provide zero nutritional value, alcohol is an anti-nutrient, meaning it competes with nutrients for space within our cells. Lastly, alcohol contributes to the acidic load within the body. When the body is in an acidic state it tends to hang on to fat rather than burning it.


Alcohol impairs muscle growth

Inflamed muscle tissue is associated with alcohol abuse. Alcohol damages muscle cells and blunts their growth. As stated before, alcohol takes priority, so protein synthesis is halted while alcohol is being processed. Protein synthesis is the process by which new muscle grows and exerted muscle recovers. If this process is disrupted, that grueling workout may have been for naught. Alcohol consumption will also blunt the effects of growth hormones. Growth hormones are responsible for building new muscle, developing dense bones and improving exercise adaptations. Some studies show that growth hormone secretion can be reduced by up to 70% due to alcohol consumption. In other words, you may be losing 2/3 of your results by drinking alcohol.

Alcohol will dehydrate you and make you lose vitamins and minerals

Our muscles are composed of 70% water. When we drink alcohol, our body must draw water from the muscles to help detoxify that martini. This is a great detox system because the muscles are such a large storage depot of water. The catch is that muscles need to be well hydrated in order to recover. Every chemical reaction in the body requires water, so when the muscles are “dry” they simply cannot rebuild. Dehydration is also associated with weight gain. You can start to see how interconnected all of this is. As mentioned before, alcohol competes with and displaces valuable vitamins and minerals. This is particularly evident with the B vitamins, calcium, zinc, vitamin A and phosphorous. These guys help with many processes in the body but the one I want to address is the oxidation process. When we do CrossFit or any other intense physical activity, our metabolism is increased and so is oxidative stress. This physical stress requires extra antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to ensure the body is running at optimal levels. When external stressors outmatch the antioxidants present in the body, lack of energy, sickness and even disease can manifest. The bottom line is that alcohol depletes our bodies of the very constituents we need for repair from strenuous exercise.

Consuming alcohol in moderation (1-2 drinks daily) doesn’t have all of the negative effects listed above. This is why 1 drink was allowed during the NBC challenge without penalty. However, when multiple drinks or binge drinking occurs, it can wreak havoc on our bodies and ruin the work we put into our diets and at the gym. If we are truly chasing optimal health and I believe everyone in our community is, then we can no longer accept the excuse “That’s just life; I have to drink at every social event I attend.” Striving for moderation and having the occasional “big night out” is totally understandable, but some of the NBC results were much more excessive than that. Remember, the most important thing we possess is our health.