Alcohol is Worse Than We Thought

01.17.2018 | Forge Performance

Alcohol is Worse Than We Thought

Alcohol tends to get a bad reputation regarding your health and fitness. But is it really that bad for you? Well, you may want to grab a support system for what you’re about to read. As it turns out, alcohol is even worse than we would’ve thought!

After a few hours of university style research, we learned that alcohol could be the silent killer of your health and fitness goals. This is due to a few reasons. One, of which, is extremely obvious, while others are probably not ones you’ve considered. We’ve listed them below, and we’ll discuss how they impact you in terms of fitness.

  1. Increased Calories
  2. Decreased Recovery
  3. Decreased Quality of Sleep
  4. Decreased Performance

Increased Calories

This is by far the most obvious reason, but we don’t feel people give it the attention it deserves. You’re probably thinking, how bad is having one drink a few times per week? And you’re not wrong. Drinking a few standard drinks in moderation shouldn’t be a big deal, but let’s look at the math.

Most standard drinks are between 100 and 150 calories. We use the word standard lightly because most people are having more than 1.5oz of liquor, 12oz of beer, or 5oz of wine as a “drink”.

Regardless, let’s say you have 5 drinks per week, which is fairly average for an adult person. That adds up to anywhere between 500 and 750 calories per week. Do this every week for a year, and we’re talking about anywhere from 26,000-39,000 additional calories throughout the year! This equates to roughly 7.5-11 lbs of body fat (3,500 calories per 1 pound of fat) at the end of the year. And that’s not counting all the additional calories we typically consume while drinking alcohol. Most times, these calories are often unnecessary and unwanted.

“But I Workout”

I know what a lot of you may be thinking. You workout, which burns a lot of calories. YES, it does, but that’s not how it really works with alcohol. Alcohol is metabolized (turned into energy) by the liver, which means it can’t be used as a source of energy for exercise. It first must be converted into fat, and then made available to be used as energy via exercise or fueling our metabolism.

And that’s not the only way in which alcohol can significantly impact our ability to lose weight, or be fit and healthy individuals in general.

Decreased Recovery

Another major way alcohol impacts us is during our recovery period. The majority of this process takes place while we are sleeping. During this time, our body experience a significant (as much as 75%) decrease in plasma growth hormone (PGH). PGH is the amount of Growth Hormone (GH) we have circulating around in the blood.

I know you may have thought GH is just that stuff all the Baseball players keep getting busted for, but it’s a hormone our body produces naturally. It, more importantly, regenerates during our sleep cycle. This is why Growth Hormone suppression is so important:

  1. It stimulates protein synthesis, or how our body builds up tissues. These tissues include the following
    • Muscle – less lean muscle means less ability to burn fat
    • Skin
    • Hair
    • Nails
    • Teeth
  2. It stimulates lipolysis, or how our body burns fat. Did you know we burn the majority of our bodies fat while we are at rest? The burning of fat is a long, slow process. Our body upregulates this process during sleep to keep our bodies alive with the least amount of energy necessary.
  3. It boosts our immune, which we obviously use to combat viruses, bacteria, and infections.

If you thought that was bad, alcohol has a continual negative impact on our sleep.

Decreased Quality of Sleep

We’ve all had this situation before. After a heavy night of drinking, no matter how long we sleep, it’s the worst night sleep we could imagine. We have to admit, before we did our research, we never really knew why.

While you sleep, an increase in blood alcohol levels causes what is known as arterial oxygen desaturation. That’s basically a big fancy term for less usable oxygen floating around our blood stream to be distributed to our body. Because of this, we experience repetitive bouts of sleep apnea throughout the night. Have you ever found yourself waking up every hour after a night of drinking? This is why!

“I don’t drink heavily”

Most people reading this article might not fit into the classification of drinking heavily. Unfortunately for you, regardless of how much alcohol you drink, you’re still disrupting your sleep. Alcohol also prevents our bodies from entering the deepest stages of sleep, REM sleep. The worst part is that alcohol negatively impacts our REM sleep not just on the night of the drinking bout, but the following night as well!

It is unclear as to whether drinking more has a greater impact on REM sleep, but it wouldn’t surprise us if it did. The bottom line is whether your drink moderately or heavily, drinking alcohol has a significant impact on our body’s ability to recover.

So far, we’ve learned that alcohol packs on more calories than we potentially thought, and it also decreases our body’s ability to burn calories while we rest. Thankfully, we still have the ability to burn calories during exercise, right?

Decreased Performance

With exercise, alcohol has the potential to negatively impact our performance, whether it be for sport or energy expenditure. So, regardless if you’re a high level athlete or just some guy/gal trying to burn some calories, alcohol takes its toll in different ways.

Acute and Chronic alcohol consumption significantly decreases our body’s ability to recover, which we touched on earlier. In fact, you are better off not doing any type of resistance work the day of or night of which you plan on partaking in heavy drinking. If you plan on drinking moderately, you will do less damage, but your best bet is to not drink at all.

Additionally, it downregulates the pathways from the brain to the muscle in order to stimulate a contraction. This means that even if you try to push hard, your brain simply won’t let your body do it. The lower intensity you push to, the lower your performance, and the less your caloric expenditure.

Summary

To summarize, chronic alcohol consumption is associated with:

  • More Body Fat
  • Less Lean Muscle
  • Worse Skin, Hair, Teeth, and Nails
  • Depressed Immune System
  • Decreased Sleep Quality
  • Decrease in Testosterone

Suggestions

Now, before you throw out all your weekend plans for the next 6 months, allow us to clarify these points. All of the above risks are associated with regular alcohol consumption. Is it a good idea to have 1-2 drinks every night of your life? Probably not. There are some health benefits to alcohol, such as the documented prevention of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), or as a form of stress relief. However, there are far better ways to have a healthy heart and relieve stress than alcohol consumption.

We’d also be lying if we, as fitness professionals, said that we don’t drink alcohol. We are totally aware as to the cost to benefit ratio of alcohol consumption. So that’s really what it comes down to. If you have very specific physique or performance goals, alcohol is something you should probably stay away from drinking regularly. But if your fitness goals are more modest, you can get away with the following guidelines:

  1. Drink moderately

    • Men: 1-2 standard drinks per day, no more than 14 drinks per week*, and no more than 4 in a sitting
      • *Obviously, drinking less is preferred, due to the increased calorie count. But from a health perspective, you’re not doing any harm to your body.
    • Women: 0-1 standard drinks per day, no more than 7 drinks per week*, and no more than 3 in a sitting
      • *See above
  2. Do not perform resistance training before, or after a night of drinking (light cardiovascular work is ok)

  3. Have protein while you drink (yes, seriously)

  4. Drink during the day, or as far from bedtime as possible