Consuming alcohol has been a tried and true means to bring people together to come together in a time of enjoyment and relaxation. In moderation, alcohol can be a good way to relieve stress from high intensity sports or exercise, and can bring teams closer together through group bonding; yet sports performance and recovery has been shown to be inhibited by a number of reasons.
There are numerous statements and opinions out there in the public that bash alcohol in regards to athletic performance. But is there evidence that supports this? The literature says yes.
When ethanol, the main type of alcohol found in beverages, is broken down through metabolism, reactive oxygen species have been found in the liver. These reactive oxygen species promotes inflammation around the body, which shows the body’s response to harmful products in the body. This indicates that alcohol does have negative effects on the body. In regard to sports performance, alcohol stimulates many inhibiting processes, such as inhibiting calcium uptake. With a lack of calcium uptake, muscle contractions and strength output are impaired. Dehydration is widely recognized as a possible effect following alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been shown to inhibit an anti-diuretic hormone, thus promoting a loss of fluid through urination. Alcohol also has been shown to be a vasodilator as well, which increases fluid movement around the body, and thus can be another complication in dehydration through evaporation.
For recovery, the big inhibitor is protein synthesis. Alcohol suppresses the pathways that synthesize protein in the body, resulting in depleted muscle growth. Another inhibitor is glycogen reuptake. After a workout, the muscles are depleted of glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose, and the alcohol consumed can take the place of the carbohydrates being broken down to glucose. Thus, muscles are not able to recover to their full potential for the next workout, and they are not able to grow to their full potential through a lack of protein synthesis.
There is a level at which a majority of these inhibitors commence. A drink here or there won’t necessarily promote a drastic drop in performance, but consistently reaching that intoxication level around 0.10 BAC will show drops in performance.
Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781–789. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080781
By Daniel Goebel
Daniel received his Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology from Westmont College. Daniel played baseball at Westmont. Daniel currently works at UCLA as a Performance Nutrition Intern assisting in distributing planned meals and recovery snacks, body composition evaluation as well as creating education material. Daniel is working towards his Register Dietitian license. Daniel is a member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association.