Before I start this, I’d like to clarify that I haven’t got a PhD in Nutrition, nor am I an alcohol expert. I’m just an ex rugby lad turned Personal Trainer talking about his experiences with booze and training. You might be able to find more in-depth articles with specifics about alcohol ingredients and the long-term effects of alcohol on the body, but I’m just telling you my thoughts and experiences
Everybody drinks. Maybe a bit more in England as there’s nothing to do apart from hitting pub, but pretty much everybody drinks. If you’re serious about your training however, you shouldn’t drink, or as much anyway. There’s an endless list of short, medium and long term negative affects on your body and mind from alcohol and I’m going to touch upon a few of them.
Here’s a few fun facts. 1. Alcohol is a depressant. You may feel happy and chirpy whilst under the influence, but eventually it will leave you depressed. 2. Alcohol is an addictive drug. It’s all fun and games but can be a slippery slope and lead to all kinds of problems. Maybe not after one night, or one year, but after a couple of years it can take its toll. 3. Alcohol lowers testosterone production. That’s right, alcohol LOWERS testosterone production. So if you’re trying to increase muscle mass yet hammering the pints every weekend, you’re almost wasting your time. 4. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. That’s not per gram of your drink, it’s per gram of pure alcohol, but it’s still enough. And these calories are pretty much useless within your body. There’s a whole load of other more severe consequences of alcohol intake but I guess you’re just going to have to google them.
The worst and most prominent negative effect for me and my training is hangovers. I used to go to 18th birthday parties and not know how I got home and the next day get awarded Man of the Match. Now a boozing session will put me back almost a week of training. It might be because my frequency and tolerance has decreased. Or possibly because I eat so clean in the week that when I fill my body with toxins it takes a more severe effect on my body. Or maybe that I’m just a tad older now and it takes longer to recover. Regardless of the reason, I still can’t train hungover, and that’s a problem.
In the past I used to force myself to the gym to have a half assed hungover session, but I definitely wouldn’t advise this. Rather than having a useful training hour I’d find myself dancing to the terrible gym music and spending my time talking to gym members, which I’d regret the next time I came in as now sweaty Steve and BO Ben won’t leave me alone. When your heads all over the place the last thing I would suggest is a weights session. You’ll end up dropping the weight and either hurting yourself or someone else, it’s just too dangerous. If you NEED to train hungover or think you can “sweat it out”, I’d go for a cardio workout or a whole body light circuit. Even if this isn’t your regular workout plan, you’ll feel a lot better after this than if you jump to a chin up bar, miss it, and land flat on your back (personal experience).
Calories associated with alcohol includes both calories in the drink but also calories in the food you will undoubtably eat. A pint of beer or large glass of wine could be anywhere around 200 calories, so if you’re binging with around 10 of these a night this is an additional 2000 calories in your evening. If you’re a social drinker having just 1 or 2 most evenings, you may avoid hangovers or a serious hindrance in performance, but throughout the week you’re having at least 2000 extra calories. And if you’re drinking hard all weekend this could easily be an extra 6000 calories. So just from the drinks alone you’re having an extra 2-3 days worth of calories in your week. You wouldn’t meet your friends and go through two boxes of crispy crème donuts and think it was healthy, would you?
It’s so easy to overeat when you’re drinking: crisps, pork scratchings, curry, pizza, donner meat and chips, two footlong subs (personal experience), raiding the cupboard when you get home, the opportunities are endless. You can easily eat 3000 calories extra in the evening WITH the alcohol you’re drinking. And it’s never the quality nutrient dense food that your body needs. Who’s ever come back from a night out and said “Cwoah, I can’t wait for my chicken breast and asparagus”, it’s usually some burnt toast and Pringles.
Heading back to hangovers, we all know the one thing you crave when you wake up is a full English. A big greasy plate of food with plenty of bread to soak all that alcohol up. So let’s calculate your calorie intake from one binge: 10 pints of beer = 2000 calories. 2 packets of crisps = 500 calories. 1 Large pizza = 2000 calories. Tub of pringles = 1000 calories. Full English = 1000 calories. Totaling to a massive 6500 calories in just half a day! Imagine if you live like this on both days of the weekend, or even three times a week. I’m all for cheat meals, but not to this extent.
After showing a few reasons why alcohol won’t help your training lets touch upon the positives. Firstly, it’s how we spend most of our social time, now this doesn’t make it a positive, but drinking is the norm. They say no stories ever started with a salad, which is true, but then again no trophies are won with beer… apart from a drinking contest of course. I think that from the recreational level to the elite you should be best friends with your teammates. You wouldn’t put your body on the line for some guy you don’t even know. Drinking is a quick way of getting to know someone and building comradery within a team. That being said it can also be the cause of a few arguments, but hey that’s the fun of alcohol! There’s plenty of health benefits from the odd red wine or real ale too but don’t let that be your excuse for indulging daily.
Personally, I don’t drink that much anymore, not compared to the rugby/uni days anyway. It hinders my training too much and as you read before, I’m a wimp with hangovers. This doesn’t mean to say I don’t enjoy a lager or 10 every now and again. I’ll probably have a few drinks every other weekend and once a month have a binge, I don’t encourage this but that’s just my current drinking habits. If I know it’s going to be a heavy one I’ll plan my workouts and nutrition around it. I’ll cram a few extra workouts in the days prior to the night out so that I can have a good 2-3 days off after. I might do some light training but nothing heavy or significant for a good 3 days. With nutrition I’ll eat mega clean for a day or two leading up to the boozing and I’ll also limit my food intake the day after, allowing myself a healthy version of a full English (take out the sausages and bread and it’s not really that bad). This means that the extra calories I consume during the day out or evening will be pretty much balanced throughout the week. With my drink choices, I covered this in a previous blog, which you can read here.
My advice for mixing alcohol and training
Unless you’re a professional athlete, enjoy a few drinks at the weekend. Drinking alcohol won’t hinder your training too much as long as it’s done in moderation and you’re not getting blackout pissed every weekend. If you’re a month away from the big event you’ve been training for, say that 10k race, that athletics competition, or just that holiday, it’s probably wise to cut out drinking altogether for that last month. Your training will probably get that tiny bit better from cutting out those extra drinks. And saying no to a few nights out is always good for the wallet too!