BIHUB PATH

December 17, 2021

Medicine

How does alcohol intake affect athletes?

By Pedro L. Valenzuela.

Even in moderate doses, alcohol is part of the daily life of a large part of the population. This does not exclude athletes, who often end the sports day socializing or celebrating with a drink. Everyone knows that alcohol consumption can have significant health consequences. A study with data obtained worldwide (195 countries) published in the prestigious journal Lancet showed that alcohol consumption is the seventh leading cause of death globally. This attributes to between 4 and 12% of deaths in women and men. 1  In fact, the analysis showed that the only amount of alcohol that minimized adverse health effects was not having any alcoholic beverages per week (meaning that even low doses could have some consequences). 1  But what are the consequences of alcohol consumption on sports performance?

The impact of alcohol on sports performance

There is some evidence in amateur athletes that moderate alcohol consumption may not interfere with the positive adaptations generated by training. For example, one study evaluated the effects of consuming alcohol daily (the equivalent of two 330 mL beers a day for men and one 330 mL beer for women) in the benefits of a 10-week high-intensity interval training program (HIIT). 2,3  Once the training program was completed, the authors observed no differences between the participants who had consumed alcohol and those who had not for any variable. Both groups decreased their fat mass, increased their muscle mass, and significantly improved cardiorespiratory capacity and muscle strength.

However, it is essential to mention that the Beer and Health Information Center funded the previous study, which may induce a certain bias in the results. In addition, the study was conducted on amateur athletes, so these results are not necessarily applicable to professional athletes in which even the smallest detail counts. In this sense, there is some evidence that alcohol consumption – especially in large doses – could worsen training adaptations. For example, one study observed that the consumption of 1.5 g / kg of alcohol (equivalent to approximately ten beers in a single day) reduces the rate of post-exercise protein synthesis. This would inhibit anabolic adaptations (muscle growth) to training. 4  On the other hand, another study evaluated 11 people who performed an eccentric exercise to cause muscle damage. They consumed 1 g / kg of ethanol (about 230 ml of vodka) or orange juice (used as a control group) after that. 5  Interestingly, the results showed that the strength decrease in the days after the exercise was more significant (even double) after consuming alcohol than orange juice, even though there were no differences in perceived pain or creatine kinase levels (a marker of muscle damage).

Conclusions

Therefore, although there is some evidence in amateur athletes that very moderate alcohol consumption (e.g., one beer a day) may not interfere with training adaptations, considering the detrimental effects of alcohol on health and possible damages – especially when ingesting substantial amounts – in muscular adaptations (including lower protein synthesis and poorer post-exercise recovery), alcohol consumption should be reduced as much as possible among athletes.

References:

  1. Griswold MG, Fullman N, Hawley C, et al. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet. 2018;392(10152):1015-1035. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2
  2. Molina-Hidalgo C, De-Lao A, Jurado-Fasoli L, Amaro-Gahete FJ, Castillo MJ. Beer or ethanol effects on the body composition response to high-intensity interval training. The BEER-HIIT study. Nutrients. 2019;11(4). doi:10.3390/nu11040909
  3. Molina-Hidalgo C, De-La-O A, Dote-Montero M, Amaro-Gahete FJ, Castillo MJ. Influence of daily beer or ethanol consumption on physical fitness in response to a high-intensity interval training program. The BEER-HIIT study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2020;17(1):1-13. doi:10.1186/s12970-020-00356-7
  4. Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, et al. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One. 2014;9(2):1-9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088384
  5. Barnes MJ, Mündel T, Stannard SR. Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. J Sci Med Sport. 2010;13(1):189-193. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2008.12.627

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