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With plenty of sunsets ahead to toast to, the weather making an icy chenin irresistible, and of course the festive season ahead, it’s inevitable that alcohol will affect your health this summer. For this reason it’s good to know what science has to say about how alcohol and exercise mingle in your body.
According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), South Africa consumed 11.0 liters of pure alcohol in 2011, tipping them as the African country that consumes the most alcohol per capita. There’s enough data to show that too much drinking is linked to an increased likelihood of disease and possibly a premature death. Luckily, there is a happy medium. A new study, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says that getting regular exercise may offset some of the risks posed by drinking.
The authors of the study set out to see whether staying active might help cancel out the harmful effects of alcohol consumption over the years. They found that the more people drank, the higher their risk for cancer and death. No surprises there. But then by factoring in the wondrous effects of physical activity, they saw a more nuanced picture.
The links between drinking and death – from all causes as well as from cancer – remained for people who got less than the recommended 7.5 MET hours, which is equal to 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, a week. For those who moved at least that much, however, those risks were lessened or canceled out.
So exercise is excellent if you enjoy a drink, but how exactly does alcohol affect your sports performance and fitness levels? Sadly, alcohol has detrimental effects on your performance and fitness. This is for two reasons.
Firstly, alcohol dehydrates you. Hydration when exercising is critical to maintain the flow of blood through your body, which is essential for circulating oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Exercising soon after drinking alcohol can leave you dehydrated because you sweat as your body temperature rises. With sweating, and the diuretic effect of exercise combined, dehydration levels can be super consequential.
Secondly, alcohol messes with your energy production. Your body needs energy to perform, and this energy comes mainly from glucose produced in the liver. So when your body is breaking down the alcohol, the liver struggles to produce enough glucose, which means your blood sugar will dip. If your body is forced to run on your supply of fat rather than blood sugar, you will become slow and sluggish because of a lack of energy.
Imbibing can also have an affect on your performance the next day. It’s difficult to perform at your best if you’re feeling any of the effects normally associated with a hangover such as dehydration, a headache and hypersensitivity to outside stimuli, such as light and sound. Even if you are one of those unheard of superhumans with no hangover, you will still lack strength and power, be less likely to make split-second decisions and be more likely to feel tired quicker because your body won’t be able to clear out the lactic acid you produce when you exercise.