The Effects of Alcohol on Fitness

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Drinking alcohol can have side effects that will affect your fitness. (Image: Creative-Family/iStock/GettyImages)

To unwind after a hard workout, many people turn to alcohol in the form of beer, wine or mixed drinks. But before reaching for a cold one, consider this: excessive drinking has a negative impact on various aspects of fitness. By learning about the relationship between alcohol and fitness, you can protect your hard-earned physique while enjoying the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.

Athletic Performance

Like other tasks requiring coordination and cognitive precision, the ability to exercise or play sports may be negatively affected by alcohol. According to Sports Doctor, alcohol impairs reaction time, balance and hand-eye coordination, all of which you require for optimal athletic performance.

In addition, alcohol acts as a diuretic by speeding the loss of fluids and electrolytes that your body needs for proper hydration. By increasing the production of lactic acid, alcohol can worsen fatigue when exercising. Other effects include dilation of blood vessels, increased sweating and dehydration.

Weight Gain

Like soda, alcohol contains calories that can contribute to weight gain. Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day may lead to increased belly fat. While the condition is often referred to as a beer belly, any alcoholic beverage can cause weight gain if you consume them in excess. To avoid gaining belly fat, the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine suggests limiting your intake of alcohol to two or fewer drinks per day and monitoring your overall caloric intake.

Reduced Muscle Growth

Protein synthesis is vital for muscle development and maintenance. Because alcohol impairs this process, drinking can interfere with your ability to grow and maintain muscle. Binge drinking also causes a drop in testosterone levels while increasing cortisol, a hormone that destroys muscle. To prevent muscle loss, avoid drinking alcohol shortly before or after hitting the gym. Choose hydrating drinks like water or sports drinks instead of alcoholic beverages, and monitor your overall alcohol intake.

Heart Health

In some cases, moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial for overall health. An article by Dr. Sanjay Gupta in "Time" magazine explains that moderate drinking affects the body in a manner similar to that of exercise, increasing your levels of healthy cholesterol and thereby reducing the risk of vascular disease. When added to a healthy lifestyle, alcohol compounds the positive effects of exercise on cardiovascular health.

Gupta explains that these positive benefits likely apply only to people 45 and older. Excessive alcohol consumption is still harmful to overall fitness, and moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle.

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