8 ways that alcohol affects your body, sports performance and recovery

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Are you doing Dry January? Whether it's cutting down a bit, or if you are aiming for the whole month, your body will thank you for it in the long term. Have you noticed a difference in how you feel yet?

Whether you go to the gym occasionally or train every day, even small amounts of alcohol can affect your performance and prevent you reaping the rewards of your hard work.

Now we all like a beer or glass of wine occasionally, but our advice would be everything in moderation. Too many drinks could wipe out the effects of months of training. Avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours before a game or event, and make sure you re-hydrate fully, both before and after.

It's helpful to understand just how alcohol is detrimental to sports performance and how it affects the body during exercise. 

Decreased performance: decreased attention span, reaction time, reduced energy levels, concentration and focus. Alcohol interferes with the way the body makes energy. Exercise obviously requires energy, but if your liver isn’t producing enough glucose, your performance will be affected.

Dehydration: alcohol is a diuretic, it makes your kidneys produce more urine, increasing dehydration. Add sweating into the mix and you dehydrate much quicker than usual. If you are dehydrated you run a greater risk of injury, cramps and strains. Dehydration can also cause a build-up of waste products such as lactic acid, blood may thicken, and nutrients and oxygen will take longer to reach muscles. Reduced blood flow to the muscles can cause deterioration over time. You are more likely to overheat if dehydrated and this can have health implications. 

Nutrition: we tend to make poor food decisions when we've been drinking and don’t fuel our bodies properly. Alcohol consumption prevents key nutrients being absorbed into the body.

Poor fuelling = poor performance.

Disrupted sleep: you might think alcohol makes you sleep better, but that’s simply not true. if your sleep cycle gets disrupted you may not be able to store glycogen effectively (needed for endurance) and there will be an noticeable increase in cortisol levels (stress hormone). Cortisol reduces human growth hormone which is vital to the developing and repairing of muscle tissue

Increase in risk of getting injured: you can become more prone to injuries and the body will be less able to recover quickly. Recent research has illustrated the effect of alcohol on skeletal muscle. Alcohol can prevent skeletal muscles recovering and growing, and therefore increase the risk of injury and extends recovery periods.

Alcohol can put extra pressures on your organs, such as your heart, liver and kidneys. Add in some exercise and the pressure increases further. 

Delays recovery: alcohol should be avoided by those who are suffering with an injury as research has shown that alcohol affects the body’s ability to recover and heal quickly.

Build-up of fats: alcohol contains a vast amount of calories, more than you probably think. This can cause fats to build up in the bloodstream, increasing fat deposits and fluid retention - all of which impact upon performance. Alcohol can also reduce the number of calories burnt in an exercise session - the body can't store alcohol so it tries to get rid of this first.  

Masking pain: alcohol can mask pain by affecting the nerve endings. Pain is often there for a reason. Don’t ignore it. Listen to your body!

Low alcohol and alcohol free alternatives

Your body can build up a tolerance to alcohol. This means it's tempting to drink more. Have you tried some of the low-alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives yet? Alcohol-free drinks have been - until recently - dismissed as being "pretty horrible". It was a gap in the market. 

But some decent craft beers have now begun to emerge, weighing in at under 0.5% ABV. So far, we've tried Nanny State by BrewDog and that's not bad. Gin more your thing? Try Seedlip. There's two varieties available, we've tested both and we approve! Wine-wise there's a fair few bottles on the market that aren't too bad. It's worth giving them a try to see what you think. 

How can sports massage help? 

Sports massage can't help you stop drinking alcohol! That is your personal choice. However, we would recommend drinking in moderation due to the reasons outlined above.

Please remember to avoid alcohol before AND after a sports massage if you want to maximise the benefits. Massage can help flush out toxins and aid recovery. Contact us to find out more.