If you’ve ever been to one of our CrossFit Committed parties, whether it was the popular Christmas party or pre/post Open party at WOD & Rest, you’ve probably noticed that CrossFitters like to have a few drinks. In the summer, when it’s nice and warm outside it is tempting sit and enjoy a drink (or two) at your favorite beer garden. Which is why we are going to look at how our bodies process alcohol and how much drinking affects our performance.
How do we process alcohol?
Various factors -weight, sex, how fast we drink it, or whether we drink on an empty stomach- affect how fast our metabolism tackles alcohol. However, the process is always the same. First, it is processed, then distributed through out the body and then degraded.
When we drink, the alcohol (ethanol) travels straight to our stomach where it is immediately absorbed (about 20-25%) into our bloodstream. The rest continues to the small intestine, where it is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Once absorbed, it continues to our liver where it is metabolised. Usually, it takes up about 90 minutes to absorb 14 grams of alcohol (about 1 beer, wine, or a shot of hard alcohol). However, the speed is affected by the above mentioned factors. Also, any larger quantity of alcohol than 14 grams per 90 minutes is not processed immediately. Instead it accumulates until our liver is able to process this excess.
Alcohol muffles our central nervous system. Which is why the first couple of drinks give us a relaxed buzz. But later on experience a different condition … we get drunk.
How does it affect your performance?
Regeneration and sleep
After a long WOD our muscles need time to relax. A good night sleep is crucial for our recovery, and alcohol affects that too. To wake up fresh we need to get to the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of our sleep and drinking disrupts this phase. It also reduces growth hormone leakage (which helps muscle growth and regeneration) by as much as 70%. Drinking alcohol also decreases testosterone levels, another key hormone for muscle growth and regeneration.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it increases urine water excretion and can cause dehydration. Dehydration results in loss of muscle mass and increased appetite. If you’ve ever tried working out after a night out, then you are aware that hangover & sweat combo is not so great. Dehydration also increases the risk of cramps and pulling or tearing muscles.
Increased calories intake and appetite
1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories and adds to our total calorie intake. When we drink our bodies are busy trying to digest it and therefore reduce metabolism of other macro nutrients. Another negative effect is an increased appetite. You probably lived this – you spend the week eating healthy, and then come Saturday you go out for a couple of drinks with friends. On the way home you simply can’t fight the urge to stop for a kebab.
We’ve read countless studies on the influence of alcohol on the human body, some even show positive results. An occasional drink or two are not too bad. Your performance, if you drink responsibly, won’t suffer significantly. If you know you have a party to go to and want to minimise negative effects on your regeneration and performance, I would recommend to time your training well and also drinking as much water as possible to prevent dehydration.