Alcohol and Athletic Performance

Harvard has one of the most impressive athletic programs in the nation, boasting 42 varsity teams and many athletic extracurricular organizations. Many students who choose to drink on weekends consider the immediate effects of their alcohol consumption but might not be aware of the longer-term effects alcohol has on the body.  Whether you’re a dedicated athlete or not, this information is useful for any student interested in the larger effect that alcohol has on your physiology.

 

Muscle growth and physical recovery:

Maybe you know that continuous, long-term alcohol use decreases protein synthesis and diminishes muscle growth in the body. However, even short term alcohol use hinders the growth and rebuilding of muscle because it reduces REM sleep and spreads toxins.  Growth hormone is produced and spread in the bloodstream during REM sleep, so reductions in REM sleep due to alcohol consumption prevents the body from reaping the benefits of, and/or successfully recovering from a workout.  Furthermore, alcohol makes your body dehydrated, since it’s a toxin that travels through your bloodstream to every organ of your body. This dehydration makes it difficult for your body to heal from injuries or muscle soreness, and also plays a role in preventing the body from absorbing key nutrients essential to high performance.

 

Performance and energy:

Alcohol absorption in a muscle cell disturbs its water balance and processes of breaking down glucose.  The disruption of these two processes have a detrimental effect on the cell’s ability to produce its energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), therefore negatively affecting both energy and endurance.  Alcohol can continue to affect your brain and body’s performance for 3-5 days after consumption.

 

Additional things to note:

Remember how alcohol reduces REM sleep?  This means your memories will be affected as well.  Classwork, game strategies, and that cute person’s name will all be harder to remember if you’re not getting the proper REM sleep to encode and reinforce those memories.

Lastly, alcohol is a source of “empty” calories… while you may feel proud of yourself for turning down fried and fatty food late at night, alcohol has the same (or even less) nutritional value and will be processed into sugars and stored fats.

 

The material in this blog post is adapted from Princeton University Athletics’ “Alcohol and Athletic Performance.”