I don’t care what level you train at. Weekend warrior, elite athlete: it makes no difference. You should be aware of the effects alcohol can have on the human body and performance. Why bring this up now?  We are all currently experiencing the mad crush of Christmas parties and celebrations tinsel laden and spirit soaked.  Trust me, I understand how challenging it is to avoid the gluttony and binge drinking that is the season. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t push that moderation truly is key.

Let’s begin, shall we?

First of all, alcohol is a diuretic, (your kidneys produce more urine); therefore, excessive alcohol consumption promotes dehydration. Now let’s add sweating and dehydration is imminent. Hydration allows for better blood flow, essential for oxygen delivery to your muscles. Hydration also controls body temperature; consequently, you’re more likely to overheat. Not optimal.

Secondly, you are overwhelming your liver. When you are metabolizing alcohol, the liver cannot produce the glucose needed to sustain adequate blood sugar levels, adversely affecting performance. Not only will you be moving slower, your reaction time and coordination will be off, increasing the possibility of injury. Also bad.

The aforementioned are the immediate effects of alcohol consumption, but wait, there’s more…

Alcohol is high in sugar which means it has A LOT of calories. Seven calories per gram in fact. If body composition is part of your goal set, than it seems paradoxical to consume excessive empty calories in liquid form. Alcohol also interferes with the body’s ability to burn calories through exercise. We aren’t designed to store alcohol forcing our body to try to expel it as quickly as possible. This disrupts the status quo and we can’t absorb nutrients from food as efficiently or burn fat.

Now let’s talk about gains. Insulin, growth hormone, and testosterone, are the major players in mediating the anabolic process of protein synthesis. I could go on for days about ‘exactly’ how this works, but for the sake of this blog, just know that alcohol disrupts our sleep patterns and the secretion of these hormones, vital for muscle growth and recovery. It is also worth noting that alcohol in excessive amounts can actually ‘poison’ muscle fibres, inhibiting any adaptation to training for up to three days.

I could get into the fact that if you are injured, consuming alcohol will inhibit the recovery process, or that it increases the potential for unusual heart rhythms. This is a risk which significantly increases during exercise up to two days after heavy alcohol consumption.

“But I heard red wine is good for your heart?”

First of all, the evidence to date seems to only be valid for those over 45. Sorry. It is also imperative that we understand that the risk of developing liver disease to gain this benefit doesn’t seem worth it. Maybe I’m wrong. But I find that possibility highly unlikely. 😉 Before you throw antioxidants at me, just know that I have an arsenal of nutritional information for you on great alternative sources.

In summary, treat your body like it belongs to someone you love.  Find your balance and remember that moderation is key.


Roberta J Gizen BHK, CPT, PN1