Updated: Aug 31, 2020
There has always been quite a bit of talk about the impact alcohol has on our health, training performance, and physique. Some believe that abstaining from drinking alcohol is the key to improving their health and wellness. While others strongly disagree and drink more habitually. I think we can all agree that over-consumption of alcohol can severely harm our bodies in the long run, but do we really need to quit it all together? There is an abundance of different takes on alcohol consumption and human health. In this blog, we are going to go through some of the concerns surrounding the impact of alcohol on our body composition, weight management, and our training performance and recovery.
WHAT IS ALCOHOL?
So what is it exactly? For our purposes, we are referring specifically to drinking alcohol or ethanol which is produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeast from different food origins (think of wine and how it comes from fermented grapes). Alcohol, is classified as a “sedative hypnotic” drug. Intake results in a depression of the central nervous system. Lower dosages may act as a stimulant making you feel more alert, which is why it leads to increased talkativeness and the sought after sense of euphoria. We all probably know what higher dosages lead to, but we can get into that more a little later on.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DRINK ALCOHOL?
Alcohol eventually makes its way to the liver where it will undergo metabolism. Since the body can't store alcohol, it will be metabolized before everything else in your system. So, the speed at which this will happen depends on the last time you ate. A fuller gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) will slow down how quickly alcohol reaches its next stop in the body. Including fiber and protein in your diet can help with this part too. How frequently you drink also impacts the speed of alcohol metabolism. Less frequent drinkers produce less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. This sounds fancy but really it just helps in alcohol's metabolic process. This is where one issue with more frequent drinking comes in. When alcohol metabolizes, acetaldehyde is produced which can cause a lot of damage to our bodies. It is then converted to acetate, but it could damage a range of different tissues before its lifespan is over. Alcohol metabolism doesn't just occur in the liver, some of it may be metabolized in the pancreas and even in the brain (this could be a contributing factor to the well-known hangover). In general, the body can only metabolize so much alcohol every hour, regardless of how much you consume. Now that amount will vary between people base on liver size and body mass.
IS ALCOHOL BAD? Not all alcohol is bad, especially when consumed in moderation. Red wine specifically is considered a FEON, or food essential for optimum nutrition. The active ingredient, resveratrol in red wine, has fantastic anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and fat metabolizing proteins that can enable cells to live longer. It has been suggested that consuming 1-2 drinks 3-4 times per week will actually increase health benefits. With that said, each body's response to alcohol is a little different and you shouldn't drastically change your diet without seeking medical advice. But remember, how “bad” something is, really depends on its dosage and, with alcohol, the consistency and length of time in which you habitually drink.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Perhaps abstaining form alcohol isn't necessary to see health improvements. If you are someone who chooses not to include alcohol in your diet, that's great! However, if you are someone that likes a nice glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a social gathering, try to limit your intake based on your body type. Alcohol can cause damage to your health and/or impair your training progress if consumed irresponsibly. So drink smart if you choose to drink at all.