Alcohol, Sweets & Overeating: Effects on Athletic Performance
With holiday parties in full swing, it's easy to find ourselves replacing our usual fruit and cheese snack with a couple cookies or glasses of wine. Sweets and large portions are a trademark from November through February. The key is learning how to balance favorite foods while still maintaining our performance food intake alongside it.
Alcohol is a staple beverage choice for celebrating for both athletes and non-athletes. It is commonly incorporated into races, during or afterward. Champagne is often the drink of choice in locker rooms for teams that have made it to the next level in competition. Wine and beer are commonly served at holiday parties...But how does alcohol affect our bodies and athletic performance?
Whether alcohol is consumed a few times a week or every day, it can have a noticeable effect on your athletic performance. Alcohol affects each person differently, however, alcohol can lead to dehydration, decline in motor skills, decrease in both aerobic and anaerobic performance, and impair recovery. Consuming alcohol before you exercise can inhibit the production of new glucose (the primary fuel for activity) and increase the production of lactate (the primary inhibitor of continued activity). Alcohol consumption after exercise can easily displace proper nutrition for recovery such as carbohydrates, electrolytes, and protein.
Think of grabbing a beer after a tough workout…it's easy to feel full after this and we haven't done anything yet to help our bodies recover. It is also important to consume protein rich foods after an intense workout to promote muscle growth and repair. Alcohol has diuretic properties which cause you to urinate more frequently and in turn cause you to be dehydrated. The higher the percentage of alcohol the longer the recovery process can be due to the increased urine loss.
When it comes to food portions and sweets, awareness is key. Did you know that some sweets or easily digestible carbohydrate can actually be beneficial for exercise recovery?! Yes, if you're going to have something a little higher in sugar (i.e. small sugar cookie or muffin), post-workout is a great place to put it. You'll absorb the carbohydrate really quickly which can help replenish muscles while simultaneously putting a big smile on your face! Just pair it with a protein food that has higher nutrient density as well: low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, edamame, protein shake, etc. Where that fast sugar absorption goes wrong is when it's happening too much, too often. If the delicious sugar cookies start to take over whole grains, fruits, veggies, and beans in your daily diet, performance will start to decline. Micronutrient intake will be impaired, antioxidant intake is lower, and you'll be at risk to start experiencing more symptoms of acute inflammation. So, enjoy your cookie/brownie/pie/muffin/etc, but spread them out so that you're not just filling up on these foods all day.
In addition, it's really, really easy to overeat when there is a lot of food (tasty food) present. By being aware of what's on your plate, you can reduce your likelihood of overeating on foods that impair performance. Do you have a veggie, whole grain, and some lean protein? Are you feeling overfull after meals? These are questions you can ask yourself to check in with your portion sizes. If you feel uncomfortably full after a meal, your body is primed to store fat. As we all know, fat doesn't really benefit many sports except for some football positions and sumo wrestlers. Slow down at your meal, have performance and favorite foods, and finish the meal comfortably full to have the best of all worlds.
Hopefully the above tips give you a good place to start with moderating alcohol and favorite foods for the remainder of the holidays. Keep your training schedule in mind if you have one, and plan for your drinking/sweet indulgences to not interfere with workouts. For example, if you're doing a heavy agility workout on Wednesday, Tuesday isn't the best day to drink if you want to reap the benefits from that workout. Try splitting some dishes with a friend when dining out, and have a little bit of everything to satisfy your taste buds and without derailing your training schedule.