Alcohol and Athletics
Athletes may tend to underestimate the way in which alcohol use, even a few drinks, can compromise athletic performance by erasing the effects of workouts, reducing endurance, and interfering with the mental game. While the information below relates to alcohol and the body, it is also important to remember that teen athletes who use alcohol jeopardize the possibility of college scholarships.
The information below will help parents and their teens understand how using alcohol affects muscle development and recovery, the ability to learn new plays and strategies, and endurance and nutrition.
Alcohol Affects Muscle Development and Recovery
- Reduces benefits of workouts: Few athletes realize that drinking alcohol after a workout, practice, or competition can cancel out any physiological gains he or she may have received from that activity.
- Interferes with muscle repair: In order to build bigger and stronger muscles, a body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol’s effect on sleep, the body is robbed of human growth hormone that is a normal part of the muscle building and repair process. Alcohol can decrease the release of this chemical by as much as 70 percent.
- Deprives muscles of energy: When alcohol is in the body, it triggers the production of a substance in the liver that is toxic to testosterone, which is critical for the development and recovery of muscles. In addition, as alcohol is absorbed into the muscle cells, it can reduce their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate, the muscles’ source of energy that provides the fuel necessary for muscles to contract.
- Dehydrates cells and slows healing: Speeding the recovery of sore muscles and injuries is key to performing well. Alcohol travels through the bloodstream to every organ and tissue, causing dehydration and reducing the body’s ability to heal itself. In addition, the loss of body fluids also results in the loss of important vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and zinc – critical for muscle action and coordination.
Alcohol Affects the Ability to Learn New Plays and Strategies
- Hinders learning: For most athletes, learning strategies and game plays is critical to peak performance. When alcohol is consumed, the brain’s ability to learn and store information is hampered because of alcohol’s effect on the brain's hippocampus, which is vital to forming memories.
Blocks the ability to retain information: Alcohol affects the sleep cycle by interfering with the sequence and duration of normal sleeping stages, reducing the brain’s ability to retain information.
- Reduces attention span: Attention span is shorter for periods up to forty-eight hours after drinking.
Alcohol Affects Endurance and Nutrition
Even though high in calories, alcohol calories are not available to muscles because the body cannot convert them to the type of carbohydrates muscles use. Instead, the calories are converted into fatty acids. There is very little nutritional value in alcohol, which can leave the well-conditioned athlete with a lack of energy and loss of endurance.
Adapted with permission from Alcohol and Athletes, Copyright ©2008 University of Notre Dame - Office of Alcohol and Drug Education, Division of Student Affairs; to learn more, visit http://oade.nd.edu/educate-yourself-alcohol/alcohol-andathletes/