Most of us enjoy a little alcohol from time to time. The fact that alcohol has a negative effect on our bodies in many ways will not surprise you. But how is the effect of alcoholic beverages reflected in our sports performance? Is it necessary to cut it out completely during sports?
- Alcohol metabolism: when we consume alcohol, especially ethanol, it enters our bloodstream, where it is metabolized primarily by the liver. Excessive consumption can lead to fatty liver disease and liver damage;
- Dehydration: alcohol reduces the production of the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin, causing water loss and dehydration;
- Risk of injury and reduced performance: alcohol consumption increases the risk of sports injuries and can reduce sports performance by 11.4% in the long term;
- Negative effects of excessive consumption: excessive alcohol consumption leads to cellular acidification and lactate accumulation, which can cause depletion of glycogen stores and subsequent hypoglycemia. This has a very negative impact on athletic performance;
- Alcohol and recovery: alcohol can cause oxidative stress, which slows muscle and tissue recovery, impairs the ability to absorb nutrients, and impairs sleep quality.
Processing of alcohol in the body
There are many alcohols, but it is ethanol that we get into our bodies when we open a bottle of wine in the evening or when we quench our thirst with a cold beer after a long bike ride or run. What happens then? Alcohol in small amounts starts to enter the bloodstream already in the mouth, then in the stomach and intestines, and travels in the blood through our body. From the blood, alcohol is metabolized mainly by the liver, and if excessive consumption occurs, the liver cells can start to die. Alcohol that is not metabolized by the liver is eliminated from the body in its original form through sweat,urine, and breath.
The effect of alcohol on sports performance
Known effects of alcohol include loss of attention, loss of balance, reduced coordination of movements, and more. A not-well-known fact for athletes is that once alcohol reaches the nervous system, it reduces the secretion of antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin). This is supposed to prevent our body from losing too much water. The function of antidiuretic hormone is to inform the kidneys to conserve water. Therefore, if we have a deficiency of this hormone, the information about water conservation does not reach the kidneys, sending more water directly into the bladder, and dehydration occurs.
Alcohol also increases the risk of sports injuries. A study conducted among athletes aged 18 to 24 revealed that there is an increase in the risk of injury from 23.5% in abstainers to 54.8% in drinkers. So it's worth considering whether you'd rather not drink alcohol. Especially considering that alcohol also reduced sports performance by 11.4% in the long term.
And what happens if we really drink just too much of alcohol?
When alcohol is consumed in excess, our cells become acidified, producing the lactate well known to athletes. The fact that the cells are full of lactate then sets off a chain of chemical reactions that, with prolonged overconsumption, deplete glycogen stores and can lead to hypoglycemia (a drop in blood sugar). Hypoglycemia causes heart palpitations or unpleasant feelings of weakness. For athletes, depletion of glycogen stores has a very negative impact, as it is from glycogen that glucose is formed, which is the first source of energy for athletic performance.
Alcohol before a race or training session
Do you want to relax your nerves for the upcoming race? Then read on, as alcohol should be avoided for this purpose. Consuming alcohol the night before a race can have a negative impact on your overall performance, especially because of the following:
- Reduced recovery ability
- Disruption of sleep patterns
Specifically, alcohol consumption reduces the body's ability to recover from physical exertion. Alcohol can cause oxidative stress in the body, which slows down muscle and tissue recovery. In addition, it impairs the body's ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals, and interferes with the quality of sleep by limiting the ability to achieve deep, restorative REM sleep.
Learn more about sleep and recovery in this article.
What to avoid
We are not saying that every athlete has to be abstinent. You can indulge in alcohol to a reasonable extent, and while a significant reduction in alcohol consumption will benefit your body, we are not forcing you to give it up completely. But we do have some recommendations on what to avoid and what to watch out for:
Consuming alcohol just before training or a race - if the alcohol has not yet been fully metabolised by the body, the negative effect will be high.
Excessive and frequent alcohol consumption - prolonged consumption will negatively affect your performance.
Alcohol consumption during periods of stress - if you are focused on performing at your best or if you are a professional athlete, it is certainly worth considering skipping alcohol completely during training and racing periods.
Inadequate hydration after alcohol consumption - if you are currently indulging in alcohol, be sure to replenish with plenty of clean water during and after consumption.
Alcoholic beverages can make many events more enjoyable, but their effect on our bodies and sporting performance is mostly negative, so alcohol consumption should be approached with caution.
- El-Sayed MS, Ali N, El-Sayed Ali Z. Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. Sports Med. 2005;35(3):257-69. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200535030-00005. PMID: 15730339.
- O'Brien CP, Lyons F. Alcohol and the athlete. Sports Med. 2000 May;29(5):295-300. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200029050-00001. PMID: 10840864.
- Arthur I. Cederbaum, Alcohol Metabolism, Clinics in Liver Disease, Volume 16, Issue 4, 2012, Pages 667-685, ISSN 1089-3261, ISBN 9781455749171, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002.Dostupné z: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1089326112000852
- Chemie nebezpečného alkoholového opojení. Přírodovědci.cz [online]. Praha: Univerzita Karlova, 2012 [cit. 2023-08-02]. Dostupné z: https://www.prirodovedci.cz/chemik/clanky/chemie-nebezpecneho-alkoholoveho-opojeni