Drinking is a funny topic. Alcohol consumption to some degree has been a human activity since antiquity. I’ve even seen some sweet nature videos of African savannah animals (I think this was giraffes and baboons) eating fermented (read rotten) fruit until they stumbled around like an Englishman after watching Manchester United at the pub. Usually, in my experience, this conversation centers around legalities, most often driving. To shift the focus, let’s ask a different question. How does alcohol consumption affect athletic performance?
When considering that question, the obvious answer that while drunk performance tanks, isn’t where I’m headed. Obviously, the lack of motor control, inhibited cognition, and impaired interpretation of afferent information cause athletic performance to decline steeply. If, somehow, this wasn’t obvious to you, you’re probably also plagued with the belief that you are a better dancer while drunk as well. Here’s three effects that should be considered.
The first alternate sub topic in the conversation on alcohol affecting performance has to do with recovery and its dependency on nutrients. If exercise is the stimulus for change, recovery is the work that occurs to attempt to adapt to those imposed demands. Structural repair occurs, enzymes are produced; the biochemistry of repair happens. It’s the science of getting those coveted gainz. An interesting thing about biochemistry and physiology is that nutrients (vitamins, minerals, substrates, etc) are required at every step of the way for these processes to occur. An effect of alcohol consumption is the depletion of an array of nutrients: vitamin A, calcium, ALL of the B vitamins to mention some notables! With the depletion of nutrients due to either inhibited absorption or excessive utilization of the nutrients for detoxication processes, less are available to perform the tasks of repair and upkeep; recovery. Less recovery equals less gainz. Less gainz is not why you put in the work at the gym or in your sport.
Along those same nutritional deficiency lines but coming in at a different angle, some direct performance effects come to mind, one of which has to do with those B vitamins. Vitamin B12 is one of those depleted with alcohol consumption and one of its notable roles in the body is to aid in the maturation of red blood cells. If high school biology was a little too long ago, red blood cells carry oxygen, which is a required component in the production of ATP within the mitochondria. ATP, adenosine triphosphate is what our cells use for energy. Deficiency in vitamin B12 leads to megaloblastic (big funky shaped) anemia (red blood cell disorder). Megaloblastic anemia (or any anemia for that matter) results in a lessened ability for the body’s red blood cells to carry oxygen to working cells. Decreased oxygen = decreased energy production = decreased energy output by working muscles = decreased performance.
The final effect that I will bring out is the increased proclivity to develop a whole host of disease states. I am certainly not going to go into the pathophysiology of a litany of diseases and how each of them ties back to their increased rates of incidence and alcohol consumption. That’s a talk for another venue. What I will tie this back to is the concept of allostatic load. When a substance is introduced to the body that is considered a poison by that body, physiological steps are taken to neutralize and eliminate that toxic insult. Priority is given to that biochemistry. In more general terms, energy is siphoned away from more routine processes, like repair and upkeep, to deal with the poisonous assault.
In the end, I don’t drink for various reasons, most of which are related to me wanting to be the healthiest version of myself as often as possible and in the handful of times that I have drank, I’ve at no point ever actually felt better than I did before taking that first drink. In the same breath, I also wouldn’t presume to tell another what to do with their own life. If information for the mental arsenal is what you seek, I hope that this can sprinkle some extra food for thought into your decision making process.