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Alcohol and exercise

Health benefits of a moderate intake of alcohol have been reported. Moderate or sensible drinking (3 drinks per day for men and 2 drinks per day for woman) is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease. On the other hand, high levels of alcohol intake increase your risk for hypertension, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, violence and suicide.

Alcohol is a rich source of calories: 7 kcal per gram compared to the 4 kcal of carbohydrates and proteins and 9 kcal of fat. This means that alcohol is nearly as high in calories as fat! It is also a source of ‘empty’ calories, as it contains no vitamins, minerals, proteins or fat. Hence an excessive intake of alcohol can lead to increased percent body fat or fat mass.

Alcohol has the following effects on the body:
Acts as a depressant on the brain
Gives a relaxed feeling
Reduces anxiety
Gives a feeling of being ‘tuned in’
Dilates the blood vessels
Increases the flow of stomach juices
Increases urine output

Ultimately alcohol abuse leads to the following:
Insomnia, amnesia, hallucinations, depression, epilepsy, alcoholic dementia
Cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and liver
Cirrhosis of the liver
Gastritis and pancreatitis
Malnutrition and dependence
Atrophy of testicles
Foetal alcohol poisoning
Peripheral neuritis
In extreme cases, accidents, domestic violence

Alcohol and Exercise Performance
Alcohol is the only fluid that is discouraged in an athletes diet. The problem is that in most sports, team and individual, heavy alcohol use is often a part of post match and race functions.

Negative effects of alcohol on performance
Most people know that long-term alcohol abuse has serious consequences on liver and nervous system functioning. However, most people are unaware of the negative effects of alcohol on performance. In fact, many athletes believe that alcohol benefits their performance.

The immediate effect of alcohol consumption on performance is a decreased reaction time, balance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. It is proposed that alcohol decreases aspects of performance such as strength, power, local muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance as well as impairing body temperature regulation. During exercise recovery, alcohol negatively effects muscle glycogen synthesis, aggravates dehydration, increases bleeding and swelling through a vasodilatory effect and therefore affects the recovery and rehabilitation from injury.

Alcohol prevents the body from using fat as its primary source of energy, and this means that you rely heavily on carbohydrates for energy. As the body only has a limited store of carbohydrates, this will severely limit performance in endurance activities. Other factors that negatively affect performance the day after alcohol consumption are: dehydration (therefore impaired temperature control), decreased immunity, increased heart rate and blood pressure which could lead to a stroke or cardiovascular incident if a previous condition exists.

The energy value of alcohol is 29 kilojoules/gram which makes it a concentrated form of energy that is low on nutrient value. Due to its negative effect on fat burning, these kilojoules will be stored as fat. Excess weight in the form of fat is another negative effect on sporting performance.

The next time you reach for a drink after a race or training sessions, remember that a non-alcoholic beverage will be far more beneficial to your health and recovery. It is, however, not necessary to abstain from alcohol completely, but be aware of the effects that alcohol can have and avoid binge drinking.