What are the effects of alcohol on weight management and fitness?

Excessive consumption of alcohol can be harmful for the brain and body. Anything more than two drinks per day (on average) is too much, and problem drinking comes in many forms. If you’ve lost one of your personal possessions or your phone more than twice due to alcohol; if you’ve missed work or social engagements more than twice; if you’ve said something you regretted on several occasions because of alcohol, then that’s problem drinking. It’s about where it takes you rather than how much you consume.

What happens when you drink alcohol?

Alcohol is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine. Once absorbed, it affects every part of the body. In order to metabolise the alcohol, the liver takes on the brunt of the work, and the alcohol is then processed out via the breath and in the urine. Alcohol affects the brain in various ways, primarily affecting the frontal lobes, which influence speech, memory, judgement and movement. The central nervous system (CNS) is also impacted, and excessive (and prolonged) alcohol consumption can have long-term effects on impulse control and movement.

The effect on sport and fitness

Alcohol is a diuretic, so it dehydrates you. Studies have shown that performance becomes impaired when the body is as little as 2% dehydrated, and you are more likely to overheat if you’re dehydrated. Alcohol harms the muscle fibres, which impacts your recovery and negates a lot of the work you have done in the gym. It also reduces testosterone in the blood, and disrupts sleep. It is during deep sleep that growth hormones are released, which are vital for muscular gains.

While alcohol is present in the body, the liver will be working overtime to break down the alcohol and remove it. It therefore won’t be producing as much glucose, and your blood sugar will be lower and your performance will be slower. Not only will your performance be affected, but your co-ordination, speed and agility will also become impaired. If you’re hungover, the body can’t clear out lactic acid as effectively, and this also impairs performance.

The effect on weight management

Alcohol is very high in sugar, and it’s very easy to gain weight this way. Calorie burn is slowed in the presence of alcohol, and the absorption of nutrients is also reduced.

If you want to lose weight, or even maintain your weight, it’s really important to control your alcohol intake.

The effect on your health

Alcohol affects everything in the body. Alcohol consumption can seriously affect your mental health, and many studies have linked it to depression, anxiety and chronic stress. Alcohol will slow down recovery from stress, exercise, illness and injury. Alcohol is an insidious drug that tends to creep up on people. A good diet, a regular exercise regime and something that helps you calm the body down should always be your first line of defence.

leanne spencer

Leanne Spencer

This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.