The effects of alcohol can depend on the amount consumed, the environmental context, and on the individual. Daily consumption of up to four drinks may have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. Nonetheless, people most commonly drink for alcohol’s anxiolytic (stress-reducing) property. Conversely, alcohol has a wide spectrum of negative effects, from societal to physiological, accounting for approximately thousands of deaths yearly worldwide. From a physiological perspective, two situations draw special attention for the fitness-oriented individual who consumes alcohol. Acutely, alcohol can cause negative effects on motor skills and physical performance. Chronically, alcohol abuse may eventually impede physical performance; individuals diagnosed with alcohol dependence have displayed varying degrees of muscle damage and weakness. Furthermore, alcohol abuse is at least as prevalent in the athletic community as it is in the general population; the vast majority of athletes have begun drinking by the end of high school.
ALCOHOL USE IN ATHLETICS
Alcohol use by athletes often starts at the junior high school level and can start even earlier. Among high school students, male athletes are more likely to not only use alcohol regularly but also to abuse alcohol. This relationship does not seem to exist at the college level. Nonetheless, alcohol consumption is high enough for alcohol to have been named the most abused drug in collegiate sport by the NCAA and in professional and Olympic sports by the NFL, NBA, and USOC. What are the numbers in Kenya? My guess is as good as yours.
ALCOHOL AS A NUTRIENT
Each gram of alcohol (ethanol) provides seven kilocalories compared to nine for fat and four each for carbohydrate and protein. Other nutrients may be present, depending on the type of beverage. Beer, for example, has been seen as a good source of many nutrients and has sometimes been used in preparation for endurance events or to replenish nutrients following competition. Actually, orange juice supplies four times the potassium plus almost three times the carbohydrates, and it would take 11 beers, for example, to obtain the B-vitamin recommended daily allowance (RDA).
PERFORMANCE WHILE BLOOD ALCOHOL IS PRESENT (ACUTE EFFECT)
• Motor Performance – Low amounts of alcohol (0.02-0.05g/dL) can result in decreased hand tremors, improved balance and throwing accuracy, and a clearer release in archery, but in slower reaction time and decreased eye-hand coordination. A moderate (0.06-0.10 g/dL) amount of alcohol negatively affects such skills.
• Strength/Power and Short-term Performances – The effect of alcohol, in low to moderate doses, is equivocal. It can have a deleterious effect on grip strength, jump height, 200- and 400-meter run performance, and can result in faster fatigue during high-intensity exercise. Conversely, alcohol has been shown to lack an effect on strength in various muscle groups, on muscular endurance, and on 100-meter run time.
• Aerobic Performance – Low or moderate amounts of alcohol can impair 800- and 1500- meter run times. Because of its diuretic property, it can also result in dehydration, being especially detrimental in both performance and health during prolonged exercise in hot environments.
PERFORMANCE DURING HANGOVER
Any lingering effect of alcohol would especially hinder physical conditioning progress. According to current research, the effect during a hangover seems to be undecided, with no effect on several performance variables, but a decline in total work output during high intensity cycling. Furthermore, handgrip muscular endurance has been shown to suffer a delayed decline on the second morning following intoxication.
PERFORMANCE WITH CHRONIC ALCOHOL USE
Chronic alcohol abuse may be detrimental to athletic performance secondarily to many of the sequelae that can develop. Alcohol affects the body’s every system, linking it to several pathologies, including liver cirrhosis, ulcers, heart disease, diabetes, myopathy, bone disorders, and mental disorders. The following implications may especially interest the athletic individual. Alcohol can result in nutritional deficiencies from alterations in nutrient intake, digestion, absorption, metabolism, physiological effects, turnover, and excretion of nutrients. Myopathy (muscle damage, wasting, and weakness) can occur in various muscles, including the heart, often compounded by alcohol-caused neuropathies. Also, the hormonal environment can change, making it less conducive to increasing muscle mass and strength.
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT AND RECOVERY
• ALCOHOL USE CANCELS OUT GAINS FROM YOUR WORKOUT Consuming alcohol after a workout, practice, or competition can cancel out any physiological gains you may have received from such activities. Not only does long-term alcohol use diminish protein synthesis resulting in a decrease in muscle build-up, but even short term alcohol use can impede muscle growth.
• ALCOHOL CAUSES DEHYDRATION AND SLOWS DOWN THE BODY’S ABILITY TO HEAL. Speeding the recovery of sore muscles and injuries is integral to optimal performance. Alcohol is a toxin that travels through your bloodstream to every organ and tissue in your body, causing dehydration and slowing your body’s ability to heal itself.
• ALCOHOL USE PREVENTS MUSCLE RECOVERY. In order to build bigger and stronger muscles, your body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol’s effect on sleep, however, your body is robbed of a precious chemical called “human growth hormone” (HGH). HGH is part of the normal muscle-building and repair process and the body’s way of telling itself your muscles need to grow bigger and stronger. Alcohol, however, can decrease the secretion of HGH by as much as 70 percent!
• ALCOHOL USE DEPLETES YOUR SOURCE OF ENERGY. Once alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestines and finally into your cells, it can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, thus altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel necessary for your muscles to contract. A loss of ATP results in a lack of energy and loss of endurance.
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS YOUR ABILITY TO LEARN NEW PLAYS AND STRATEGIES
• ALCOHOL USE INHIBITS YOUR ABILITY TO LEARN NEW INFORMATION. Any athlete knows that preparation, such as learning new plays and sound strategies, is essential to peak performance. However, alcohol can have a devastating effect on this process. When there is alcohol in your system, your brain’s ability to learn and store new information is inhibited due to compromising of the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain vital to the formation of memories. If you cannot form new memories, you cannot learn.
• ALCOHOL USE HAMPERS MEMORY AND RETENTION. Much of your memory formation occurs while you sleep. Alcohol affects your sleep cycle by disrupting the sequence and duration of normal sleep, reducing your brain’s ability to learn and retain information. Even drinking up to six hours before your go to sleep will negatively affect your sleep cycle. For example, if you drink after a day of classes, studying, or learning new plays, you are not getting 100 percent out of your efforts because of the effects of the alcohol you drank.
o Consuming 5 or more alcoholic beverages in 1 night can affect your brain and body for up to 3 days.
o Two consecutive nights of drinking 5 or more alcoholic beverages can affect brain and body activities for up to 5 days.
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS NUTRITION AND RECOVERY
• ALCOHOL USES AND CONSTRICTS METABOLISM AND ENDURANCE. Being physically fit and well conditioned is the hallmark of a champion. However, no matter how many wind sprints you do, drinking alcohol constricts your aerobic metabolism and endurance.
• ALCOHOL USE REQUIRES INCREASED CONDITIONING TO MAINTAIN WEIGHT. Alcohol holds very little nutritional value to the athlete. The relatively high calories in alcohol are not available to your muscles. Alcohol calories are not converted to glycogen, a form of stored carbohydrates, and thus are not a good source of energy during exercise. Each drink contains approximately 100-150 empty calories. The body treats alcohol as fat, converting alcohol sugars into fatty acids.
• ALCOHOL USE INHIBITS ABSORPTION OF NUTRIENTS. Not only is alcohol devoid of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, it actually inhibits the absorption and usage of vital nutrients such as thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc:
a. THIAMIN (vitamin B1) is involved in the metabolism of proteins and fat and the formation of hemoglobin. It is also essential to optimal performance for its role in metabolizing carbohydrates.
b. VITAMIN B12 is essential to good health. It helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells.
c. FOLIC ACID is an integral part of a coenzyme involved in the formation of new cells; a lack of it can cause a blood disorder called “megaloblastic anemia,” which causes a lowering of oxygen carrying capacity and thus negatively affects endurance activities.
d. ZINC is also essential to your energy metabolic processes. Since alcohol depletes your zinc resources, the effect is an even greater reduction of your endurance.
There are various methods to screen for alcohol abuse. Standardized questionnaires are available, but taking a more subtle approach by adding questions in medical history forms may be more effective. A team physician may also look for certain signs in the athlete’s appearance, but this has limited usefulness; it is good only for extreme cases of alcoholism. Athletes should be informed of all of alcohol’s detrimental aspects.
Team rules and guidelines such as the following can be used:
* Pre-event: Avoid alcohol beyond low-amount social drinking for 48 hours.
* Post-exercise: Rehydrate first and consume food to retard any alcohol absorption. To address any underlying causes of alcohol abuse, professional counseling should be available to athletes either directly or by referring athletes to community resources.
Source of literature:
1. Written for the American College of Sports Medicine By L. Perry Kozir is, Ph.D
2. AAI American Athletic Institute
Author: Dr Eugene Kalman Genga
Consultant physician/ lecturer
University of Nairobi/ Kenyatta National Hospital/ Nairobi Arthritis Clinic
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