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The Impact of Alcohol On Your Gym and Diet Efforts

You spend hours reading different literature on carbohydrates, dietary fat and protein to understand everything there is to know about your diet. You want to know how each one is going to impact your ability to build muscle, lose body fat and recover properly from each workout session. Then you likely carefully plan out your diet, making sure portion sizes are correct, nutrient timing has been taken into consideration, and with any luck, your taste buds are at least moderately satisfied.

But then the weekend hits and someone asks you to go out for a drink. You’ve been following your diet diligently throughout the entire week, so what harm could one or two drinks really have?

Here are some factors you might want to consider first before taking that shot.

Alcohol and Your Bone Health

We all know that chronic alcohol intake -- or even a number of episodes of binge drinking once a week -- will do a number on the liver. When the liver is exposed to more alcohol than it can handle, or is constantly being worked overtime due to the high volume of alcohol coming to it, problems will result.

What many people aren’t aware of is that alcohol also plays a big role on your bone health as well. During one study performed out of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science in Oregon State University, researchers found that when a control group was fed a diet for three weeks that contained 35 percent of its total energy coming from alcohol, the subjects had a lower lean mass, lower total body bone mineral content, and a lower bone density.

In addition to that, another study conducted out of the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Illinois found that when adolescent rats were fed a daily dose of alcohol for sixty days during their primary growth phase, they showed a decreased level of bone health, largely due to less than optimal functioning by the osteoblasts (cell responsible for bone formation).

If you’re choosing a beer with dinner instead of milk, not only are you depriving yourself of calcium, but you are leeching existing calcium from your body. This also puts your bones at risk for osteoporosis and stress fractures.

Alcohol Intake and Judgement

With the ingestion of alcoholic beverages also lowered inhibitions when it comes to sticking your diet. After a few drinks, you might find that you’re much more likely to dive into that plate of wings sitting on the table, or if you’re like many others, you’ll continually eat handfuls of nuts throughout the night while you are drinking.

This becomes very problematic because not only are you taking in the calories contained in your drink (and those numbers vary depending on the type of drink you’re having), but you’ll also be consuming massive quantities of additional calories from the food you eat. Keep in mind that bar food, or foods you typically eat while drinking, are not your standard lower-fat, low-calorie fare that you would eat if you were sober.

Another issue with alcohol intake and judgement is that if you’re out partying hard one night and have a workout scheduled the next day, nine times out of ten you’ll likely be skipping that workout while recovering in bed. For most of us, exercise is the last thing running through our mind after waking up the morning (or in some cases, afternoon) after a night of heavy drinking.

One or two drinks on occasion may not have this workout-skipping impact on you, but if you’re regularly out drinking more than a couple, your workout schedule is going to take a hit.

The Opposite Side Of Alcohol Intake And Calorie Consumption

Though most people will tie drinking and eating high calorie foods together, there are some individuals who tend to not eat when they drink. This is especially the case for women who very often will skip their dinner meal just because they know they will be taking in more calories later that night with their alcohol beverage choices.

Even though you may not suffer as much of a weight gain because of your drinking, you are going to seriously short yourself on the proper nutrition that you would otherwise be getting. For example, if you fail to meet your protein intake for that, you set yourself up for lean muscle mass loss and potentially a decreased metabolism.

You really do have a trade-off when you choose to drink. Either you maintain your daily calorie allotment so you don’t risk gaining weight, choosing to forgo good nutrition in the process, or still make sure you meet your nutrient needs but suffer the consequences of increased calorie intake each time you drink.

Alcohol Intake and Recovery

The last big concern you need to keep in mind with alcohol intake is its impact on your recovery rates. You work hard in the gym with each session you do, so it’s vital that you’re recovering optimally between those sessions so you can see continual. Alcohol impairs your recovery period.

In a study by the Australian Institute of Sport, researchers studied the different affects of alcohol intake on post-exercise muscle glycogen restoration. They had six well-trained cyclists perform three separate trials, one where after exercise they consumed a carbohydrate rich meal (1.75 g/kg), another trial where they consumed an alcohol displacing carbohydrate meal (1.5 g/kg alcohol), and a third trial where they were given both alcohol and carbohydrates after the exercise session was completed (carbohydrates + 1.5 g/kg alcohol).

After the study was completed they noticed that the alcohol trials significantly increased serum triglyceride levels and that glycogen storage was decreased in the alcohol groups compared with the carbohydrate group. These results indicate that when alcohol is present following a workout period (up to 8 hours after the session is completed), it will negatively impact your ability to recover properly.

If you’re performing a hard workout on a Friday after work, for instance, and then decide to go out for drinks to watch the game, you can expect a decline in results from that particular workout due to decreased recovery.

When You Are Going To Drink Alcohol

Despite all of these findings, there are still a few of you who are going to choose to continue drinking, hopefully in moderation. Some individuals simply are not willing to give up a drink or two on the weekends.

If you are going to drink, in order to minimize the damage you experience, cut back on your carbohydrates for that day, but be absolutely sure to get enough protein in. This will help to spare your muscle mass and try and keep a healthier metabolism, even though it still will take a hit after drinking. Along with protein, also be sure you are making an extra effort to consume more water to help counteract the dehydration effects that the alcohol will have on you. Finally, if you do know you are going to be going out to drink that evening, try your best to schedule your workout for an early morning session. Then be sure to follow this session up with sufficient carbohydrates for muscle glycogen resynthesis. If you allow those eight hours in between and are taking in enough carbohydrates, you should be able to get in a decent recovery before the drinking takes place.

As with anything in life, it’s a compromise. Do you want to experience the most optimal results you can from your training? Or, are you will to sacrifice on the results side of things slightly in order to indulge slightly with an alcoholic beverage? This is something you need to decide for yourself, but it helps make that decision easier when you know all the facts behind it.

References:

Broad, EM. (2003). Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. Sports Science and Sports Medicine, Australian Institute of Sport, Belconnen Australian Capital Territory. Sep;95(3):983-90.

Edwards, CH. Et al. (2009) Alcohol alters whole body composition, inhibits bone formation, and increases bone marrow adiposity in rats. Osteoporosis International. Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Feb 24.

Emanuele, MA. Et al. (1999) Chronic alcohol consumption during male rat adolescence impairs skeletal development through effects on osteoblast gene expression, bone mineral density, and bone strength. Alcoholism, clinical, and experimental research. Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Illinois. Sep;23(9):1534-42.

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