by Kimberly Allen, RN
Athletes, or currently more specifically football players, have made the news again because of alcohol use. Alcohol is “the most widely abused drug in the world”. It is the substance most abused by all athletes ranging from Jr. high all the way through to the professional level. Approximately 80% of college athletes report having used alcohol in the past 12 months. Alcohol is considered a potentially deadly drug and can have significant effects on performance and sports related injuries. The incidence of sports related injuries is approximately 55% in athletes that drink alcohol compared to approximately 23% in athletes that do not drink alcohol. Alcohol consumption also reduces athletic performance by approximately 12%. It is even a banned substance in some Olympic sports.
Most athletes do not realize just how significant of an impact alcohol consumption can have on their brain and body. If you are an athlete and you drink 5 or more alcoholic beverages in one evening it can affect your brain and body for as long as 3 days. Increase that to 2 consecutive evenings of drinking and it can affect your body and brain for as long as 5 days. Even a BAC of .03 can remain for a significant amount of time even after the effects of the alcohol disappear. Alcohol interferes with protein synthesis which is needed for building muscle tissue. So consuming alcohol after a game, practice, or even a workout can eliminate all that hard work. Your muscles need to sleep to strengthen and repair themselves. The human growth hormone plays a significant role in the process of building and repairing muscle tissue as well, however, alcohol can reduce the body’s secretion of the human growth hormone by up to 70%. Alcohol also stimulates your liver to produce a substance that is toxic to testosterone. Testosterone is crucial in the development and recovery process of muscle tissue. Alcohol also alters the water balance in the muscle cells. That causes the muscle cells to be unable to produce the main source of energy for your muscle known as adenosine triphosphate or ATP.
Alcohol affects more than your muscles. Alcohol also impairs the brains ability to learn as well as store information. The hippocampus which is a small gland in the brain is crucial to the development of new memories is also compromised by alcohol use. All of which impairs the athletes ability to prepare and learn new plays and strategies which is crucial in achieving and maintaining peak performance.
Alcohol consumption also affects your nutrition. It interferes with the absorption of vital nutrients including folic acid, vitamin B12, thiamine, and zinc. All of which your body needs for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins as well as developing and maintaining healthy red blood cells and nerve cells.
It’s important that coaches and athletes become educated on the effects of alcohol consumption and the impact it has on sports related injuries as well as diminished physiological performance. The bottom line is if you are a serious athlete avoid alcohol. I understand it’s the holiday season and alcohol has traditionally been a huge part of the celebration, but are the potential consequences really worth that drink?
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.