‘The facts about the relationship between alcohol and fitness may help to make sensible choices over Christmas’
By Tom Daly
Alcohol and Christmas seem to go together – ‘The Christmas Cheer’. Alcohol and fitness, however, aren’t a good combination and juggling these opposites can be tricky for some at this time of year.
The Christmas holiday offers the prospect of some extra precious daylight hours for training and more time for recovery. This combination is a great opportunity for entering the New Year with a significant bump in fitness levels.
On the other hand, with the wrong choices about alcohol, we can exit the holiday period feeling sluggish, bloated and guilty, and struggling to get back to the levels we were at before the festivities began.
Hard training even offers us a psychological excuse for alcohol excess: we persuade ourselves that we deserve a break; we will ‘work it off’ or ‘sweat it out’ during the next training session; those extra calories will disappear in no time with training in the New Year!
The temptations of work parties, meeting with friends and family, and the general festive atmosphere, can also lower our defences and shatter our normal discipline and routine.
Here, we offer you some of the facts about the relationship between alcohol and fitness and these may help to make sensible choices about alcohol use in the coming weeks.
Impaired Metabolism and Fitness Gain
Alcohol interferes with the way energy is metabolised and how muscle is developed through protein synthesis.
The liver is busy dealing with the alcohol toxins and struggles with the normal metabolic process of energy production and muscle replenishment.
In short, the metabolic interference reduces the training effect and fitness gain.
Poor Recovery and Illness
Alcohol impairs recovery significantly and increases the risk of illness. It increases the levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – and interferes with the sleep cycle which is crucial for recovery and healing.
This combination can result in a reduction in growth hormone by up to 70 per cent. This combination lowers our illness defences and hinders recovery.
The ‘empty calories’ of alcohol obviously produce weight gain – its seven calories per gram is almost as much as pure fat.
But it isn’t just the alcohol – we are usually tempted to eat more high-calorific food with drink and the combination will undo a lot of our weight loss efforts.
Alcohol is a powerful diuretic and this promotes the production of urine. This can lead to severe dehydration, sometimes for many days depending on how much we drink.
When dehydrated, we are much more vulnerable to injuries such as muscle pulls and strains, and it has an overall detrimental effect on training and recovery.
Abnormal Heart Rhythm
There is strong evidence that alcohol may trigger cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) and atrial fibrillation in those who have a propensity for it.
In this case, using a hard training session to clear the system after alcohol excess is not a good idea.
The risk of being injured on the road is increased the day after drinking. Alcohol residue continues to affect our co-ordination and dexterity.
Concentration suffers and reactions are slower. We all have those lucky escapes on the road from time to time, but we will be less ‘lucky’ after alcohol and the season can be wiped out from just one delayed reaction.
The Facts and the Choices
By presenting these facts we are not suggesting that alcohol shouldn’t be part of the holiday relaxation and celebration.
A lucky few abstain totally without any loss of enjoyment or sociability. Some are happy with an odd bottle of beer or glass of wine. More of us struggle with temptation!
We hope these facts will help in making good choices about alcohol during Christmas, and to hit January feeling fitter and stronger, without any feelings of guilt or regret.