There are a lot of mixed opinions and studies done on alcohol. Is it healthy? Is it harmful? Is it a good post workout beverage? Let’s sort through some of these ideas on how alcohol affects your nutrition, your performance, and also your recovery and mindset. I’ll let you in on a hint… the answer to most of the questions are, it depends.
Nutrition information for alcoholic beverages are extremely hard to track. Adult beverages are often filled with sugars, and carbs and vary in calories. Even from bar to bar the same drinks may vary in nutritional information.
My tip here, is if you are tracking your nutritional intake, whether it be in calories, macros, etc. you can still document the drink but don’t worry about the exact numbers here. There are just too many variables to really know what you are taking in. If you really want that drink, allow yourself to have it, enjoy it and move on. If you are new to making changes in your eating habits, or still working to find a good balance in your diet, focusing on the actual food you ingest will be way more helpful in creating a steady diet.
The big problem a lot of people run into with drinking is that it tends to make you super hungry and I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly crave a salad or a nice lean piece of protein when I’m drinking. You go for the greasy, fatty, starchy, and fried foods. These are the calories that tend to add up and can cause a diversion in healthy eating habits if done too often.
Remember that everything in life, especially when it comes to nutrition, is a balancing act. If you enjoy having a drink here and there, allow yourself to have one. Know that there will be a big difference in having a beer or glass of wine compared to a giant, frozen, sugary daiquiri and there is a difference between have 1-2 drinks once in a while and 4-6 drinks often.
If you have already figured out sustainable eating habits that work in your life, you have maintained this lifestyle, and you are still looking to make nutrition/aesthetic, or performance changes, you may want to give a second look into how many drinks or what kind of drinks you are having in more detail.
Alcohol can also alter your performance. Alcohol, of any kind, is a diuretic so after a night of drinking you are left more dehydrated than normal. For optimal performance in sport or a workout, your body needs proper hydration to promote blood flow to working muscles. This will not only leave you with a less than optimal performance but may leave you feeling even more tired and sick after physical activity due to even more increased dehydration.
Alcohol also greatly affects your sleep. A late night out may leave you with 4-6 hours of sleep as opposed to a full 8. Even if you do manage to get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep, alcohol inhibits your ability to get quality sleep. You may knock out really fast after a few drinks but alcohol inhibits your brains ability to go into a deep sleep and blocks REM cycle which is the most restorative stage of sleeping. Lack of quality sleep may lead you to slow decision making, slower reaction times, and general lack of strength and energy.
Symptoms from a hangover such as headache, dizziness, nausea, and upset stomach are all less than optimal conditions to be training or performing under. Bottom line, alcohol can severely impact your performance on the field/court or in the gym.
I myself have taken time off of drinking when I know I have a big training goal. There have been times where I feel like it made all the difference in the world. There have bene other times where I did not feel as dramatic a difference during my workout, but I knew without question I would not skip a workout due to a hangover. This is another consideration each person needs to decide for themselves on what makes sense for their own goals.
When I was younger (not calling myself old at 27) I prided myself at being really good at dealing with hang overs. I could work a full day no problem, I could go run a 5k, a mud run, or go do whatever fun activity was planned that day without a second guess. In the past year, I have noticed an extreme decrease in my ability to deal with a hangover. I know I am not the only one who has experienced this kind of change.
Not saying that it is ever healthy to be “overserved” but as we get older, we need to accept that we cannot do the same things we used to. Our bodies are trying to tell us something. They are saying, “stop drinking so much dummy! You are poisoning me!”. If you find that heavy drinking (Moderate drinking is considered up to seven drinks per week with no more than three drinks in a single day for women and up to 14 drinks per week with no more than four drinks on any single day for men.) is continuously part of your lifestyle you may want to ask yourself a few questions:
1) Are you trying to distract yourself from other problems or stressors on a consistent basis? If the answer is yes, you may want to consider some form of counseling to help with this.
2) Are you actually enjoying this or has it just become a part of a habit and you don’t know how else to fill your time? If yes, you might want to examine some other hobbies or try hanging out with groups of people who like participating in activities besides drinking.
3) Do you find yourself unable to do other activities or have to cancel on other activities because of your drinking habit or your next day hang over? If you have done so, you may want to look at how much you are drinking and place limits on yourself to avoid this from happening.
Now as I said before, just like everything else, there is a balance. I am not here to tell you that alcohol is 100% bad and if you drink that the gods will come down and smite you. No. I like drinking. I enjoy going to different breweries, having a glass of wine on girl’s night, and going out for a fancy cocktail once in a while. But I also know that I want to keep an active lifestyle and having too many drinks one night may influence what I want to do the next day. “Drinking or not drinking isn’t about healthy vs. not. It’s about tradeoffs…. Only you know what you are or aren’t willing to trade.”- Camille DePutter
My goal here is to show people that if having an occasional drink brings you joy that is ok. Having the occasional drinking binge is not so great. Your decision on how much you drink, what you drink, and when you drink seriously depends on what your personal nutrition, performance, aesthetic goals are, as well as what activities are included in your social life. To learn a little bit more about how much alcohol affects all aspects of your health, check out this infographic posted by PN and pay special attention to the amount of alcoholic beverage allotted for each photo. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/cost-of-getting-lean-infographic