How does alcohol affect sports and exercise performance?

We all love a cocktail after a long day of work, or a frosty beer at a hot sporting event, but could your occasional (or even more than that) indulgences be hurting your athletic performance? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

However, the way that alcohol impacts your body could differ from the way it impacts your friend’s — after all, there’s a reason some people are "lightweights" and others can seemingly take shots for hours without feeling the effects. But the general rule is, just five drinks in one day can impact your workout for as much as three days — yikes.

Wondering if the consequences are worth it? Here’s how alcohol more specifically negatively impacts your performance in the gym and on the sports field.

Losing weight

When it comes to alcohol, the calories really add up fast. That shot of tequila you took with your girls is an easy 90 calories, lost. And who only takes one shot? Soon, you’re looking at a calorie total for the evening that’s easily more than a huge dinner. And once you’ve had a few drinks, it becomes all too easy to binge on greasy snack foods, from cheeseburgers to nachos. In other words, if you’re looking to lose, or even just maintain your weight, then drinking can spell disaster if you’re not very carefully managing your intake. 

Dehydration

Athletes and gym goers alike already have to watch for dehydration. With all the sweating that you do on a daily basis, it’s a real risk. Alcohol is a diuretic and causes your kidneys to work harder (that’s why you find yourself making more trips to the bathroom than normal while you’re at the bar and why your kidneys might hurt the morning after a binger). This leads to not only dehydration, but if you work out the day after drinking, or possibly even later, the dehydration will reduce your performance and make overheating a more likely possibility.

Muscle impacts

Alcohol does several negative things to your muscles. Drinking regularly can impact protein synthesis, meaning that you won’t see the muscle growth you would if you were not a regular drinker. Drinking also impacts your human growth hormone, which negatively affects your body’s ability to build and repair muscles. Binge drinking likewise decreases testosterone levels, which, again, spells negative impacts on your lean muscle mass and recovery. 

Recovery

Recovery from a big workout is much harder when you have alcohol in your system. Alcohol messes up your sleeping patterns, and sleep is crucial to proper recovery. And if you’re wanting to enjoy a few brews after your big race or sports match, if you don’t hydrate and eat ahead of any drinks, your body won’t recover as quickly or as efficiently.

Alcohol consumption on any scale is not ideal for serious athletes and fitness gurus. If you do choose to indulge, pick your alcoholic beverages and the amounts carefully and keep in mind the effects alcohol will have on your upcoming workouts and athletic events. 

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