What could go wrong if you have a couple of beers with your friends before you hit the gym? Or a few glasses of wine or some fine drinks tonight when your training is only tomorrow morning? Not much harm, right? Sadly, this is wrong. Alcohol, drunk before training, could lead to injuries; after an injury, to alleviate pain, it could make you seek medical attention later than you should and delay the healing.
No matter what your friends say, or what you read or see anywhere else, alcohol and sports do not go together. Alcohol has a series of negative effects on your body (as we will see later on in this article), and it has the effect of impairing your judgment and reflexes. These two could lead to serious injury at the gym. One thing I always tell people I train is if you drank enough that you shouldn’t be behind the wheel, then you shouldn’t be on the treadmill either.
Since every kind of claim needs supporting evidence, this is what both doctors and professional coaches have determined with respect to the connection between alcohol and sports injuries:
- Alcohol Has a Diuretic Effect
This means that you will urinate more frequently and consistently, losing liquids – and we all know what this means: dehydration. Dehydration causes your muscles to lose their strength and flexibility, cramp and, overall, underperform under intense effort. In turn, this means that, at best, you will not be able to train properly, at your usual level of endurance. In the worst case scenario, a cramped muscle could cause you to fall off the treadmill, or drop one of the dumbbells and suffer serious injuries.
- Alcohol Prevents Muscle Recovery
When you drink alcohol after your workout or sport, it will affect your sleep – and this is the period when our bodies secrete the human growth hormone (HGH). Clinical studies have shown that alcohol consumption reduces the level of HGH secretion by 70%, and this is very bad news for you because HGH is responsible with muscle growth and with repairing micro-tearing which occur due to intense effort.
As your muscles wear down more and more without recovering properly, a serious injury is just waiting to happen.
- Alcohol Increases Bleeding and Swelling
If you have already suffered an injury, even a small one, then alcohol consumption will keep you away from the running track or gym for a longer time than if you avoided drinking. The effect of alcohol on open or closed injuries is that it delays both natural coagulation of the blood and the healing of swollen and inflamed tissues. In this way, the more you drink, the longer you will have to wait until complete recovery.
- Alcohol Causes a Build-Up of Lactic Acid in Your Body
Lactic acid is any athlete’s biggest enemy. This substance is secreted by muscles under intense effort, when your energy supplies are used up. An accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles causes both cramps and fatigue. In general, if you are doing sports, you are recommended a diet with low sugar (because the digestive process of sugar creates lactic acids). Imagine denying yourself your favourite dessert, only to annul all the benefits of this abstinence by drinking a few glasses of alcohol. Wouldn’t it be a shame?
- Alcohol Numbs the Pain
“Good!”, you are tempted to say. “If I got an injury, at least I won’t feel the pain and would have enjoyed a few glasses.” What if it is a serious injury, which will get worse the longer you wait until you go to the doctor? As you can see, it is not such a good thing after all. As a general rule, never drink after suffering a sports injury. Some of the treatments which your doctor may prescribe could give you negative effects in combination with alcohol.
Frankly, there are many more reasons why you should not mix alcohol with your sports activities, but I feel that these are valid and serious enough to convince even the biggest fan of a cool pint of beer or a glass of wine. It does not mean that you can’t enjoy a glass of champagne on a friend’s birthday or wedding party. Just don’t go to the gym within the next 24 hours.