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The Real Effect of Alcohol on Training

The Real Effect of Alcohol on Training

With ‘Dry July’ upon us and with many people committing to 31 days of sobriety, it is a good time to capitalise on the benefits of not having alcohol interfere with your training goals and recovery. There are several different areas of your training that will benefit during Dry July.

  1. Excess energy from alcohol.
    Many people say it is what you eat when you drink that makes you fat, which is partly true, however, alcohol itself is a nutrient and therefore carries associated kilojoules (energy). Alcohol contains 29 kilojoules / gram which makes it the second most dense nutrient after Fat (37 kilojoules / gram) and significantly worse for your waistline than the much criticised carbohydrate (16 kilojoules /gram) and much praised protein (17 kilojoules / gram). So how does this add up? Put your maths cap on and keep up.

One standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol (290 kilojoules or 1 slice of bread), then you add in your mixers or increase the kilojoules due to your favourite beer being a 1.4 standard drink (most drinks average 550-600 kilojoules / drink) then a night out with ten drinks consumed quickly equates to 6000 kilojoules extra that day before you even grab the kebab or pizza slice on the way home. Sis thousand kilojoules equates to at least 50% of most male’s energy budgets and is an entire females energy budget if she is petite or trying to lose weight.

  1. Increased fat storage.
    Once you are over the driving limit, so you have consumed more than two standard drinks in an hour or even less for a female, your body recognises alcohol as a poison and your liver puts all of its attention towards processing it out of your system. Thanks liver. However, the downside of this amazing survival process is that when you consume food while you are drunk, your liver can not assist as it is busy minimising your alcohol poisoning, therefore the food you consume (usually wedges or pizza) has to skip a few key metabolic processes and is more likely to be just shelved as fat until your body can deal with it later when it is functioning at full capacity.

  2. Recovery and muscle growth.
    It has been hypothesised that alcohol impairs how well your muscle recovers and grows after intense training. This has been supported by research which shows that even if you include the optimal amount of protein after training, if alcohol is consumed within the eight hours after training, your muscle protein growth is impaired (alcohol impacts muscle synthesis). This is obviously further amplified if you consume alcohol straight after training without including your protein intake.

  3. Rehydration.
    The wonderful weekend phenomenon that is the hangover is largely due to dehydration, as a result of another metabolic process that will not be explained in detail. However, the impact of dehydration will affect your training performance the next day and also your cognitive function. If you are dehydrated by more than 2% your cognitive function is impaired so this is not the time to be learning new skills. Dehydration of more than 3-4% of your body weight will impact your strength and power. More dehydration will affect your speed and put you at high risk of an injury and or tearing a muscle. Basically, the overall quality of your training sessions will be lower in the 24 to 36 hours after a drinking session if you have not adequately rehydrated from your social outings.

In summary, if you are partaking in ‘Dry July’ then this is the time to maximise your recovery; ensure you are doing all of the post-training nutritional practices while enjoying maximal muscle growth every day of the week, not just Monday to Friday. You will also enjoy training on your usual ‘hangover days’ in a hydrated state resulting in a higher quality session and therefore additional strength and muscle gains. Lastly, your body fat will thank you for the reduction in excess kilojoules from both alcohol and unnecessary food as long as you don’t replace your pub sessions with all you can eat buffet sessions.

Written by Peta Carige 

Peta Carige
Sports dietitian

Peta Carige is regarded as one of the top Sports Dietitians in Sydney. After graduating with a duel degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and a Bachelor of Science she was able to obtain a clinical position in a tertiary hospital while maintaining sports nutrition work on the side. This allowed Peta to obtain a unique experience in numerous clinical areas as well as in sports nutrition and sports performance.

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