Effects of Alcohol on Health & Fitness

Written by R. S Jacobs

Alcohol ImageTo put it bluntly, alcohol offers zero nutritional value and not only that, it has a detrimental impact on essential functions which takes a very serious toll on the body. I couldn’t find one single health benefit of drinking alcohol, despite the fact that many people use it as a way to unwind or de-stress, which some might list as a benefit. A lot of people start drinking due to peer pressure or societal influences, nonetheless alcoholism, just like narcotics, is slowing becoming one of the world’s biggest problems. To those who are remotely health conscious or make an effort to live an active and healthy lifestyle, the message is simple – Alcohol is a big no-no!

Science classifies alcohol as toxic to humans and rightly so because when you consume alcohol, your body treats it as a complex poison. Alcohol triggers highly addictive receptors as it directly affects the part of the brain that controls the release of oxytocin (“happy” hormones). It also significantly suppresses the central nervous system which can lead to fatal consequences. While this sense of euphoria lingers as a result of the oxytocin, the alcohol goes on to negatively impact other parts of the body such as muscles, blood, organs and tissues.

A very common question that I often get asked is if alcohol (even restricted to weekends only – which usually results in binge drinking) will have a negative effect on fitness goals – Well, yes! There is no two ways about it – basically, alcohol makes it almost impossible for your body to absorb essential nutrients. Alcohol blocks the development of muscles and it is very calorie dense which means the risk of weight gain significantly increases and is specifically stored as abdominal fat. A lot of people are not aware of the amount of calories in an alcoholic drink. There are 7 calories per gram in alcohol, only second to fat which has 9. However, you need to consider that these calories provide no micro or macro nutrients, therefore they are mainly empty calories the body has no use for.

As many know only too well, alcohol impairs all-round cognitive functions and specifically, your judgement. You are much more likely to eat excessive amounts of food particularly foods that release more oxytocin (usually highly calorific and poor choices). Due to the fact that alcohol is considered toxic, the body automatically prioritises the breakdown of metabolising alcohol over the breakdown of fat, which is a devastating blow to your fitness efforts as both the calories from the alcohol and food are immediately shoved into storage, while the body tries to recalibrate after the internal toxic attack. This is why many drinkers have the famous “beer belly” or seem to rapidly gain noticeable excess body fat as the layers of stored unused calories pile on top of each other.

Another common side effect is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic as the kidneys try their best to purge the toxins out of the body. Anyone who has overindulged in some alcohol will know the constant urge to go to the toilet, and what they fail to realise is that while their body is flushing out the toxins, they must replace it with water to keep the equilibrium. Most people who wake up the next day with a hangover don’t realise that this is mostly due to dehydration. This is in addition to the body working overtime to destroy the toxins at the expense of normal bodily functions – In particular, nightly detox routines that are essential to ensuring you wake up feeling as fresh as a daisy! A dehydrated body can eventually malfunction, especially when you put yourself through the additional strain of exercise, another dehydrating activity (for more on this topic, check out my blog on water).

The knock on effects of alcohol can continue for days, weeks, even months after drinking it, and it is one of the most overlooked causes of illnesses. Did you know that health studies have confirmed a clear link between alcohol intake and cancer? I have seen laughable articles which seem to suggest alcohol might offer some antioxidant qualities… another sneaky advertising tactic aimed at trying to justify alcohol from a health perspective, which of course is not scientifically accurate. Besides, if your focus is increasing your intake of antioxidant foods, there are many foods with 10 times the antioxidant qualities and with actual nutritional value.

Based on all of this overwhelmingly negative information, I feel it is my duty to highlight that alcohol causes significant detrimental effects, and even worse, it is at the expense of your health and completely goes against trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, governments, distilleries, bars, convenience stores, and supermarket are more than happy to promote the social benefits of drinking alcohol purely to line their own pockets. It’s very sad to realise that we are living in a world where financial gain is placed above human lives.

Reasons Why Alcohol Affects Your Health and Fitness.

*  Reduces Performance. Alcohol intake results in the depletion of oxygen and nutrients needed for any physical activity. Your body won’t be able to circulate what your muscle requires in order for them to get fired up. In addition to the diuretic effect of alcohol, your body will be weaker and generally less coordinated, making it very difficult to maintain high intensity in a workout session.

*  Affects the Heart. Studies have shown that even days after consumption, alcohol can cause the heart to exhibit unusual rhythms. The heart is a muscular organ and alcohol has a very significant deteriorating effect on muscle cells. Some damage caused to the heart by alcohol can be long-term and in some cases, irreversible. Alcohol doesn’t just mess with the liver which is common knowledge, but it also attacks one of the body’s most precious organs essential to being alive.

* Slow Recovery. Alcohol distorts glycogen levels (stored energy) and also diminishes protein synthesis (essential to muscle repair). After exercise, the number one priority for the body is to recover. However, due to the effect of alcohol, your muscles, bones and tissues won’t be able to draw the energy required for efficient repair, which ultimately slows down recovery time after exercise.

* Fat Gain. Due to the high sugar content in alcohol, your body converts the sugar into stored excess body fat, which will inevitably lead to increased body fat percentage over time. This type of fat is generally stored in the stomach which is often the hardest place to lose body fat. Alcohol also contains calories which the muscles can’t typically use as a source of fuel. Therefore, if you are trying to lose or maintain body fat, alcohol will not be beneficial to your goals and will most likely be a huge hindrance.

* Accelerates Aging. One of the major things your skin needs in order to stay youthful is nutrients and water. Alcohol destroys vitamin A in the body, which is the essential antioxidant needed for cell repair and renewal. When skin is dehydrated from the inside out due to the diuretic effect of alcohol, it wrinkles much quicker than a hydrated, moist skin. It leaves the skin looking very pale and lacking in colour, which ages your appearance significantly. Notice how many women apply blusher to their cheeks to give them colour, which is considered a sign of health and youthfulness.

* Injury Prone. Alcohol affects the central nervous system which controls your coordination and alertness. Due to reduced endurance and coordination, those under the influence of alcohol demonstrate a significant impairment in their alertness and are more prone to being injured as a result of falls or accidents. When you combine this with a lack of muscle strength, your body will suffer externally and as well as internally. Increased cortisol (stress hormone) as a result of alcohol, leads to injuries taking longer to heal, and is also a trigger for weight gain.

* Causes sleeping disorder. Even though alcohol might make you fall into a comatose state, it suppresses breathing leading to heavy snoring and in some cases, sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can stop breathing for several seconds due to the relaxant effect of alcohol on your throat muscles. If you drink alcohol close to bedtime, even though you might fall asleep quickly, you will be missing out on the essential first stage of sleep called REM sleep. REM sleep is essential to the body restoring and re-energising itself, so you wake up the next day feeling refreshed.

In conclusion, alcohol causes more harm than it’s worth and from a health perspective, it is bad for you in every single way. Why anyone would choose to sacrifice a few moments of euphoria at the expense of their health is a mystery. By omitting alcohol from your life, you can significantly increase your strength, endurance and recovery time. Don’t forget that whilst you may not display some or any of these symptoms now, alcohol has a slow-burner effect on your health which can lead to life-threatening diseases in the future. Make a decision today to be clean, stronger and healthier.

Stay strong, warriors.

 

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