[This is a guest blog from Beau Hains. Beau is pursuing his Masters of Science in Sports Performance at Louisiana Tech University. He recently completed his time as a Sport Performance Coach Intern at Athletic Lab with CSCS, USAW-L1, and ACSM CPT certifications]
As a personal trainer, I have often experienced individuals who want to reach a certain goal, whether it be performance or physique oriented. When assessing their basic nutritional habits, I always include asking about their drinking habits. I do this not for moral purposes, but because excessive consumption can be a hindrance to their training and goals. Besides the obvious increase in calories, I intend to shed light on how the consumption of alcohol can effect physical activity.
Physical Activity and Alcohol Use: Is there a relationship?
First, let’s look at the relationship between physical activity (PA) and alcohol use. After looking at the research, there does seems to be a relationship between how physically active an individual is and how much alcohol they consume, the results may surprise you. Young adults who participate in moderate-vigorous PA were positively associated with alcohol use (Lisha, Martens, & Leventhal, 2011). The relationship between PA and alcohol use were the strongest in in adults age 20-25 (college aged), but there was still a moderate relationship in adults from the ages of 26-50. These results are likely due to social-environmental context which can vary by age. For example, participating in a recreational sports league may encourage increases in alcohol consumption while exercising.
Another factor, that may influence the relationship between PA and alcohol use, is impulsivity. Impulsivity can be defined as “multifactorial construct that involves a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences.” There is a significant positive association between moderate levels of PA and alcohol use in individuals who had higher levels of impulsivity (Leasure & Neighbors, 2014). I often hear people refer to physical activity as a means to indulge in other activities, whether they be eating, drinking, or a combination of the two. I do not refute this mentality entirely, but I do believe that most individuals vastly overestimate their levels exercise while underestimating the effects of their indulgence of choice. The saying “work hard, play hard” immediately comes to mind when I think of impulsivity, which I believe can be a somewhat sound ideology if the amount of alcohol consumption is moderated. However, what typically starts out as a “work hard, play hard” ideology more realistically turns into “work hard, play HARDER.”
Now, on to the good part…
Does alcohol really effect physical activity?
We all have our respective goals regarding training, but do we really need to abstain from consuming alcohol to reach these goals? That is the question that I would like to answer. If your goal is weight loss, reducing your alcohol consumption is a great way to potentially reduce the overall amount of calories that you consume, but are there other added benefits from abstaining from alcohol? The research seems to suggest so. Alcohol consumption (1g per kg of bodyweight) after exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) can lead to excessively diminished concentric, eccentric, and isometric torque production for the next 36 hours (Barnes, Mündelm & Stannard 2009). This amount of alcohol for a 77kg (170lb) person would roughly be the equivalent of 1 ¾ shot of vodka (or equivalent liquor). What this means is that alcohol leads to decreased performance… This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. However, this same study also tested alcohol consumption that was not preceded by EIMD, which did not see an excessive diminishment in torque production. This leads me to conclude is that alcohol doesn’t necessarily decrease performance directly, but rather it does so indirectly by impeding the recovery process after EIMD.
Alcohol does seem to have an adverse effect on training. Bummer right? However, there is no need to fret (okay, maybe a little), because a follow up study was conducted to assess if the dosage of alcohol could impact alcohol’s effect on training. The follow up study used the same protocol, but this time the dosage was decreased from 1g per kg of bodyweight to 0.5g per kg of bodyweight (0.875 shot of vodka or equivalent liquor in a 77kg person). The findings showed that lower dosages of alcohol had no impact on the EIMD-related losses in muscular performance (Barnes, Mündelm & Stannard 2012). This shows that dosage of alcohol is indeed relevant to preventing adverse effects.
Take Homes Points:
The main point here is that consuming alcohol after training, which results in exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), can negatively affect muscle recovery. Although lower dosages of alcohol can technically be consumed without negative effects, it is not super feasible since the dosage much be kept unrealistically low (who honestly wants to drink only ¾ of a beer?). The real factor here seems to be when you are consuming the alcohol. According to these results, if you experience EIMD, it would be best to avoid consuming alcohol for the next couple of days if you are trying to optimize your upcoming training sessions.
As a general guideline, if you are serious about achieving your training goal, then the elimination of alcohol from your diet would ultimately be the most optimal method. However, if you do decide to continue consuming alcohol, then I would highly recommended that you do so with moderation and with proper timing to avoid excessive detriments to training and recovery. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any credible research articles looking at effects of alcohol consumption on weight loss and body composition. I hope to see research in these areas in the future. If weight loss or improvement of body composition is your goal, then I would recommend that impulsivity, moderation (if not exclusion), and overall caloric intake should be your biggest concerns regarding the consumption of alcohol.
- Barnes, M. J., Mündel, T., & Stannard, S. R. (2009). Post-exercise alcohol ingestion exacerbates eccentric-exercise induced losses in performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(5), 1009-1014.
- Barnes, M. J., Mündel, T., & Stannard, S. R. (2010). A low dose of alcohol does not impact skeletal muscle performance after exercise-induced muscle damage. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(4), 725-729.
- Leasure, J. L., & Neighbors, C. (2014). Impulsivity moderates the association between physical activity and alcohol consumption. Alcohol, 48(4), 361-366.
- Lisha, N. E., Martens, M., & Leventhal, A. M. (2011). Age and gender as moderators of the relationship between physical activity and alcohol use. Addictive Behaviors, 36(9), 933-936.