Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Beyond the Liver: Alcohol & Athletes

This week, enjoy a guest blog post from Carrie Aprik MS, RD, CSSD. Carrie practices as sports RD in Michigan. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Nutri4Motion. Thanks Carrie!

Be Extraordinary, 

For many students, the college experience has become synonymous with binge drinking; an activity that may involve up to dozens of alcoholic drinks in a single weekend. Every weekend. Surprisingly, “excessive drinking” is classified as much less: 5 or more drinks in one bout for males, 4 or more for females.  According to the NCAA1, though the prevalence has decreased, 46% and 33% of male and female athletes, respectively, admit to excessive drinking. Beyond the well-known threat of liver damage to the average college student, student athletes have many more alcohol-related issues to worry about.  

Overconsumption of alcohol can have short and long-term affects for athletes. Alcohol is considered a toxin that, though rapidly absorbed into the blood, metabolizes and leaves the body slowly. It can take as many as 48 hours to remove all alcohol from the blood, during which there are significant effects on strength, aerobic performance, and recovery. The liver is a major hub for glycogen storage and breakdown, fat metabolism, and also alcohol metabolism. After a night of heavy drinking the liver devotes itself almost fully to metabolizing alcohol, while glycogen use and fat burning are compromised. College athletes may have as many as five exercise bouts in that 48-hour period that are therefore negatively effected by fatigue and loss of strength, balance, reaction time, mental acuity, and coordination. Furthermore, muscle breakdown is increased and muscle protein synthesis is inhibited. Dehydration can additionally stress the cardiovascular system and thermoregulatory processes. Repeatedly practicing in this state prevents training progression, and certainly competition that takes place during the 48 hour post-drinking window could be disastrous2,3.

If heavy drinking persists on a regular basis, effects can be seen on body composition. Alcohol has more calories per gram than protein.

Calories per gram

Sources: 1) 2) Fusco, Machado, & Dolan: Alcohol & the Athlete: Moderation is Key 3) Vella & Cameron-Smith: Alcohol, Athletic Performance, & Recovery 2010

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