Tips from Nancy Clark
Alcohol and Athletes
Alcohol and athletics seems to go hand-in-hand: tail-gating before
football games, quenching thirst at the pub after a team workout,
celebrating victories with champaign. Athletes are supposed to be
models for health and fitness, but sometimes too much alcohol in
sports diet taints that image.
Yes, athletes shoulder high expectations and great importance is
on sports. But does this stress justify the higher alcohol intake
athletes compared to their non-athletic peers? One might think the
detrimental effects of alcohol on performance would make these folks
less likely to drink alcohol. Not the case. Even serious recreational
runners drink more than their sedentary counterparts.
The Bad News
Alcohol is a highly addictive substance and is the most abused drug
the United States. Prolonged consumption can lead to cellular changes
the liver, heart, brain, and muscles and result in cirrhosis,
pancreatitis, irregular heart beats, stroke, and malnutrition. Even
moderate drinkers have a higher risk of oral cancer, and women who
may have a higher risk of breast cancer. Alcohol is associated with
adverse effects on safety and performance. For example, in a survey
400 ski injury victims, 20% of the skiers tested positive for alcohol.
The Good News Alcohol in moderation has health benefits. Red wine,
for example, contains health-protective phytochemicals that may
reduce the risk of heart disease. Wine may explain why the people
in France, who have been eating a high fat diet for years, enjoy
better heart-health than might be expected. Red wine is also a good
source of dietary iron, a mineral that helps prevent anemia. Beer
has a few nutritional merits, such as a significant amount of B-12,
a vitamin important for vegetarians.
Alcohol for Athletes
Alcohol is a depressant and--apart from killing pain??offers no
for athletes. You can't be sharp, quick, and drunk. Late night partying
that contributes to getting too little sleep before the next morning's
event creates another problem. Pre-competition, you may hanker for
alcohol to calm anxiety, but alcohol has a deleterious effect on
reaction time, accuracy, balance, eye-hand coordination and endurance.
It will not help you exercise faster, stronger, or longer.
Alcohol is a poor source of carbohydrates. A 12-ounce can of beer
only 14 grams of carbs, as compared to 40 grams in a can of soft
You can get loaded with beer, but your muscles will not get
carbo-loaded??unless you consume pretzels, thick-crust pizza or
carbo-rich foods along with the beer.
Alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach into the bloodstream,
appearing within 5 minutes after you drink it. After a hard workout,
alcohol on an empty stomach can quickly contribute to a drunken
One wise runner came to realize he'd rather enjoy the natural high
exercise than get brought down by a few post-exercise beers.
Drinks that contain congeners--red wine, cognac, whiskey--are more
likely to cause hangovers than other alcoholic beverages. The best
hangover remedy is to not drink excessively in the first place.
you have a hangover, drink fruit juice or broth.
Beer is often a significant source of post-exercise fluids; athletes
commonly consume larger volumes of beer than they might of water
soft drinks. Yet, the alcohol in beer has a diuretic effect--the
you drink, the more fluids you lose. This is bad for recovery and
bad for the next exercise bout.
While low-alcohol beer allows for proper rehydration, regular beer
sends athletes running to the bathroom. One study showed that athletes
who drank beer eliminated about 16 ounces more urine (over the course
4 hours) than those who drink low-alcohol (2%) beer or alcohol-free
beer. (Sherreffs. J Appl Physiol 83(40:1152, 1997) For optimal
rehydration, minimize alcohol intake.
Your liver breaks down alcohol at a fixed rate--about 4 oz. wine
can of beer per hour. Exercise does not hasten that process, nor
coffee. Caffeine just makes you a wide-awake drink.
Hot tubs, alcohol and athletes are a bad combination. The hotter
body, the drunker it may get. Alcohol impairs your ability to control
your body temperature, plus the high temperature of the hot tub
heightens the body's response to alcohol.
Winter sports and alcohol are also a dangerous combination. Don't
drink while skiing. Apres-ski, if you choose to drink alcohol, alternate
with soft drinks or juices for carbs and fluids.
The calories in alcohol are easily fattening. People who drink
moderately tend to consume alcohol calories on top of their regular
caloric intake. These excess calories promote body fat accumulation,
particularly in the trunk area--the well-known "spare tire."
with subjects who ate a standard breakfast and then an appetizer
lunch--about 350 calories of either white wine and high-fat foods,
vegetable juice and low-fat foods--showed they ate about 200 more
calories at lunch following the alcohol appetizer, and did not
compensate for this overfeeding at dinnertime. (Tremblay, AJCN 1996;
63:479-82) The bottom line for dieters: it's harder to feel full
alcohol becomes a part of your diet because alcohol stimulates the
appetite. If you are trying to maintain a lean machine, abstaining
preferable to imbibing.
If you are destined to drink, drink moderately. The definition
moderate drinking is two drinks per day for men, and one for women.
have at least have a glass of water for every drink.
Caution: Alcoholism tends to run in families. In the general population,
drinking problems occur in about 16- 24% of men and 5% of women.
under 45 years have higher rates of alcohol problems than do older
folks. Be conscious of your ability to keep alcohol consumption
socially and medically acceptable bounds. Don't start drinking if
can't easily stop.
Better than Beer
Many problem drinkers choose to trade their addiction to alcohol
healthier addiction--exercise. They've come to appreciate this "
natural high" as being better than that from beer. Let's drink
.... Drink water, that is!
Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels casual and competitive
athletes at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline, MA. Her best-selling
Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition is available
by sending $21 to Sports Nutrition Services, 830 Boylston St. #205,
Brookline MA 02467 or via www.nancyclarkrd.com.
Sober for Good by Anne Fletcher is available via amazon.com. Both
books are at bookstores.
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