Alcohol in Fitness

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The metabolism of alcohol on the body effects physiological functions of organs and disrupts processes by which the human body derives vitality. This article treads lightly over the possible effects alcohol can have on the body that are harmful to the development sought when trying to accomplish goals in fitness.

As I am not a qualified physician, the scope of this article isn’t to present data to viewers pursuing a biological explanation; I am simply recapitulating articles that I have read, that are academic works, and presenting them generally (as A effects B) rather than deeply scientific (talking about the genetic composition of cytochrome enzymes that metabolize alcohol). The depth here is to show consequences of alcohol consumption, and not to deal with the tougher task of defining these characteristics empirically through experiments or testing. Essentially, I am summing up the work of others to benefit the viewers of this site.

That being said, I think most people know not show up to the gym while under the influence of alcohol, so this article will not be covering the problems you encounter while in the gym; it merely targets the short term and long term effects that alcohol has on your level of fitness.

General Effects of Metabolizing Alcohol

Something to consider when consuming alcohol is the way its metabolism interacts with amino acid chains. Alcohol can actually inhibit regular interactions with protein and starve the body of its benefits. This is harmful to personal fitness as utilizing protein is essential to exercise and muscle repair(Zakhari). To recapitulate: growth in personal fitness depends on your muscles’ ability to repair themselves in a stronger form, which depends on protein synthesis; and alcohol negatively effects the way your body synthesizes protein.

Exercise contributes to the production of free radicals in cells. This occurs when hydrogen atoms are taken from other particles- which attempt to attach to molecules near it (Zakhari). This plays “an important role in cancer development (i.e., carcinogenesis), atherosclerosis, diabetes, inflammation, aging, and other harmful processes,” (Zakhari). Basically, this contributes to the degeneration of DNA, and other bodily functions unless an anti-oxidant attaches to the free radical. The problem of consuming alcohol is that it inflates the number of free radicals produced in the body because of the chemical reactions that result from its metabolism.

Aside from these few general consequences that injure your growth in personal fitness, alcohol also influences organs in a way that injures growth as well.

ORGANS

The liver. It seems to be common knowledge that ‘drinking is bad for your liver,’ but what does that actually entail? Well, the liver is the organ that does the majority of processing alcohol- so, it may take a lot of damage from metabolizing it. The consumption of alcohol burdens the liver by increasing the amount of fat surrounding and existing inside of it- otherwise known as Steatosis. As the fat builds-up, the liver becomes less and less able to function properly, can cause inflammation, and other problems.

One of those other problems that can develop is called cirrhosis; resulting from scar tissue forming in the liver. Cirrhosis is “a slow deterioration of the liver” which “prevents the liver from performing critical functions, including managing infections, removing harmful substances from the blood, and absorbing nutrients,” (Beyond Hangovers). Obviously, a degenerative liver is bad for your health; but even mild cases, or when alcohol causes your liver to function insufficiently, these harms can critically obstruct the completion of fitness goals. Without the ability to absorb nutrients, you cannot expect your muscles to grow adequately; and without filtered blood, you cannot expect your body to work properly! Although your liver doesn’t absorb nutrients-because that is the intestines’ function, the metabolism of alcohol indirectly inhibits the other processes of organs that do absorb nutrients. Without the liver functioning to full capacity, there are many issues that arise including its effect on other organs to absorb the necessary nutrients.

The brain is a large recipient of alcohol’s consequences. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down neurotransmitters (they transmit neurons, which relay messages to the brain in electrical and chemical forms) which can cause the feeling of fatigue, and “also trigger mood and behavioral changes, including depression, agitation, memory loss, and even seizures.” Some of these symptoms are not necessarily related to fitness, but they do have indirect consequences to your fitness training.

Fatigue is a common form of aversion to the gym. No one likes to go to the gym tired or drowsy, and you will not be able to push yourself as hard or hard enough to actually make a difference if you’re working out in that state. Mood changes can have a similar effect; feeling depressed does not really cause people to want to exercise either! These symptoms are common in people who drink moderate amounts normally, or infrequently consume a large volume of alcohol (Beyond Hangovers). So, what are chronic effects of alcohol intake?

This question is typically posited by people in college, who heavily drink 2-3 times a week. As far as the brain is concerned, long term binge drinking causes the mass of your brain to shrink; meaning, that it can effect “motor coordination; temperature regulation; sleep; mood; and various cognitive functions,”(NIAAA). ALL of these impact your fitness goals; your athleticism is effected by your impaired motor coordination; your inability to govern your internal temperature is detrimental to cardiovascular training; and so on.

The pancreas is another organ that is necessary to personal fitness and is greatly handicapped by alcohol. Its job is to send “enzymes into the small intestine to digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fat,” (NIAAA). For those who are unaware, the pancreas also controls insulin-which dictates how glucose is stored (fat or glycogen).  All of these affect your energy level, and how you digest the nutrients in your food. If alcohol is affecting your pancreas, it certainly causes a deficiency in the body’s fitness, as it will not be satisfactorily supplied with nutrients.

Your heart is also greatly influenced by alcohol consumption, which can be harmful to your fitness aims. There aren’t many studies that suggest short term consequences of moderate alcohol consumption; however, many discuss the problems that have long term effects, derivative of excessive and/or chronic alcohol use. Alcoholic Cardiomyapathy (AC) is a pernicious result from the misuse of alcohol. AC is the instance where “a weakend heart droops and stretches and cannot contract effectively,” (NIAAA). Essentially, the muscles of your heart are no longer strong enough to supply fresh blood to your muscles- creating an enormous problem while trying to train in your gymnasium. Cardiovascular training becomes inherently more challenging; and weight/plyometric training is less than satisfactory because your muscles cannot perform without fresh blood circulating.

Along with Alcoholic Cardiomyapathy, illnesses such as Arrhythmias (the heart beating irregularly), strokes (blood unable to reach the brain), and hypertension (high blood pressure) are concerns that coexist with alcohol consumption. In some senses, alcohol can improve some aspects of the heart’s functioning, like a lower risk of heart disease, raise levels of HDLs, and other things; however, these do not necessarily pertain to fitness but to overall health (Beyond Hangovers). This is beyond the scope of this paper, but can be reviewed in the articles produced by the NIAAA.

Conclusion

When training for a heightened level of fitness, whether the training is for weight loss or an athletic event, the metabolism of alcohol can greatly hinder your ability to be successful. The liver and pancreas are extremely important in nutrition, and the metabolism of alcohol impacts the function of these organs in a harmful way. In relation to your brain, alcohol effects your mood (effecting the quality of your workouts) and other cognitive functions (obstructing coordination, mobility, bodily temperature during cardio). Consequences of alcohol consumption prove to be harmful to the heart, as it can taint the function of the heart; encumbering the heart rate which is detrimental to the progression and processes of training in fitness.

Many penalties derive from consuming alcohol that are not dependent on the functions of organs; but rather, effect the body in a different way. There are more than mentioned, but it may cause an overproduction of free radicals and the ability to absorb protein effectively.

For anyone trying to accomplish fitness goals, it is best to consult your doctor about your intake of alcohol; but I strongly recommend abstinence- for it is clearly the most efficacious path for o


This is a reference to Adduct Formations, namely acetaldehyde adducts and ROS formations from the source listed.

Zakhari, Samir. National Institutes of Health, “Overview: How is Alcohol Metabolized by the Body?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2010. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets

National Institutes of Health. “Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on your Health.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2010. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets

 

 

Nick

About Nick

Nick Levato has been involved with the fitness community for over 8 years. Not only is he a Certified Personal Trainer but, has also been trained in martial arts. Nick has overseen the training of many individuals spanning all ages and fitness goals; and experimented most diets; for competitions, cutting, vegetarian, and general diets to coincide with weight training at the time. In addition to training on an individual level, Nick has also taught many group classes. He takes pride in pushing himself to his limits in the gym and in his everyday life.

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