The end of a long work week often is best capped with a cold drink. It’s no secret that alcohol can provide relaxation and tension relief. And long-term effects have proven equally beneficial. A plethora of studies have linked moderate consumption to decreasing the likelihood of major ailments including heart disease, stroke, gallstones, cholesterol and diabetes.
It seems like a beer a day keeps the doctor away. So what’s the problem? A series of studies compiled by Monclair University suggests that the use of alcohol, regardless of the amount of consumption, can be harmful for fitness fanatics. So how can booze wreck success?
Alcohol is full of empty calories, naturally creating a problem. Because alcohol is a toxin, the body prioritizes burning the alcohol before carbs and fat. The more alcohol in your system, the more work you have to do just to start targeting fat. Ironically, booze also increases cortisol, the hormone controlling stress. The extra cortisol encourages fat storage, specifically belly fat (i.e. “beer belly”).
To grow, your muscles need protein. With alcohol in your system, your body is unable to effectively utilize — or synthesize — the protein. In addition to packing on fat, the excess cortisol in your system destroys your muscles. Binge drinking also leads to decreased testosterone, further limiting your muscle creation. Dilation of blood vessels, increased sweating and constant dehydration means your body is working harder, not smarter.
Anyone who’s ever worked out with a hangover can tell you it can be a miserable, tiring experience. Consuming alcohol even the night before athletic activity greatly decreases balance and hand-eye coordination and impairs reaction time. However, the main reason you feel so exhausted actually has less to do with the alcohol itself, and more to do with your lack of sleep. As we mentioned in “Trading ZZZ’s,” sleep loss can kill your metabolism and muscle growth, and it also diminishes athletic performance. Research shows that alcohol decreases sleep duration and increases wakefulness, especially in women, whose sleep time was decreased by more than 30 minutes over the night.
Alcohol on a routine basis can hurt your chances of fitness success. But there are times when you just need to wind down, and nothing sounds better than a drink. Since many of us face this situation (probably more than we’d like to admit), there are a few options. Red wine is chock full of antioxidants that protect heart vessels and fight off a number of other ailments. The juniper berry that makes gin is a proven diuretic, and it’s been shown to decrease blood-glucose levels. And if you just need a beer, opt for a Guinness. The high calorie count may be trumped by an ability to prevent platelet clotting, as well as high antioxidant levels.