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How much alcohol can athletes have?

How much alcohol can athletes have?
Alcohol is the most often used by athletes recreational drug. According to a dictionary, drug is a substance that acts on the nervous system, causing sedation, pain relieve, intoxication, euphoria or sleepiness. Alcohol is not an essential component of the human diet. 1 g of ethanol provides about 7 calories of energy (in theory, the issue will be developed further in the text).

Let's take into account the amount of ethanol and its caloric value only:

  • 500 ml beer, 4.5% - contains 22.5 ml of ethanol (~18 g). This makes 126 kcal in 500 ml,
  • 500 ml beer, 6% - contains 30 ml of ethanol (23.7 g). This makes: 142.2 kcal in 500 ml,
  • 500 ml beer, 10% - contains 50 ml of ethanol (39.5 g). This makes 276.5 kcal in 500 ml,
  • Vodka 250 ml (40% ethanol) - provides 100 ml of ethanol (78.9 g), which makes 552.3 kcal.

For example, a 0,33 l bottle of stout supplies:

  • 0.2-1.3 g of fat,
  • 3 g of protein,
  • 23.1 g carbohydrates,

That is, 105 kcal. Additionally it is known that dark beer may comprise approx. 20 ml of ethanol in 0.33 litre: 140 kcal or more. So a 0,33 l bottle of beer gives your appx. 245 kcal. [2]

A pint of ale beer has around 371 kcal.

Given all of the nutrients:

  • A pint of lager, about 500 g. is 245 kcal
  • A pint of stout, about 500 g. is 371 kcal
  • A glass of whiskey - 125 kcal,
  • Semi-dry white wine - a 100 g glass - 81 kcal,
  • Sweet white wine, sweet, a 100 g glass - 95 kcal,
  • Dry white wine, a 100 g glass - 66 kcal,
  • Red wine, a 100 g glass - 68 kcal,
  • Vodka, a 50 g glass - 110 kcal [1]

Alcohol has a multidirectional impact on:

  • metabolism, including obtaining energy from fat,
  • heart and circulatory system,
  • thermoregulatory functions,
  • hormonal system,
  • liver, kidneys.

Data from New Zealand have shown that many students who train athletics professionally drink more alcohol in comparison to a group of physically inactive. Research from France brought conflicting results: some say athletes consume greater amounts of alcohol, others - lower.

The impact of alcohol on glycogen metabolism

Glycogen is the primary component of the energy stored in your body. Athletes have large resources of stored glucose, estimated at least at 1,600 kcal for a person weighing 70 kg. Burke checked how drinking alcohol affects the restoration of glycogen after intense cycling.

Three types of "diet" were applied:

  • control group: high carbohydrate diet, optimal for glycogen stores recovery,
  • alcohol and reduced amount of carbohydrates (instead of 210 grams of carbohydrates, 120 g of alcohol were supplied),
  • Alcohol + carbohydrates (120 g of alcohol + a large amount of carbohydrates).

Results: 8 hours after the training (glycogen mmol / kg):

  • Control group (carbohydrates): 44.6 ± 6;
  • alcohol (120 g), and smaller amounts of carbohydrates: 24.4 ± 7
  • alcohol (120 g) + carbohydrates: 36.2 ± 8

Results: 24 hours after training (glycogen mmol / kg):

  • Control (carbohydrates): 81.7 ± 5
  • alcohol (120 g), and smaller amounts of carbohydrates: 68.4 ± 5
  • alcohol (120 g) + carbohydrates 85.1 ± 9

Conclusions from the study:

  1. As you can see, with reduced resources of carbohydrates in the diet and the addition of alcohol, after 8 hours the glycogen in the muscles has halved in comparison to the high-carbs group.
  2. However, the impact of alcohol in correspondingly large surplus of carbohydrates is not clear. After 8 hours, the difference in muscle glycogen between the groups (high-carbs, high-carbs and alcohol) was insignificant, and after 24 hours none - control group 81.7 ± 5, and a group with alcohol + carbohydrates: 85.1 ± 9
  3. Scientists emphasise that individual differences between different people are so important that one participant would suffer big disturbance in restoring carbohydrates resources in the muscles after drinking alcohol (even with an adequate supply of carbohydrates), while another will not feel at all the effects of alcohol on slowing down the process of post-workout regeneration.
  4. People who drink a lot of alcohol may have a problem with providing the right amount of carbohydrates - another source of energy - and ethanol is not very effective. [3]

The impact of alcohol on dehydration and thermoregulation

Dehydrating effect of ethanol has been well known for at least a few hundred years. Eggleton estimated that for every gramme of ingested ethanol 10 ml of urine is produced.

Alcohol acts to suppress the secretion of the antidiuretic hormone: vasopressin in the pituitary gland. Research shows that a competitor's rehydration with water or a soft drink containing up to 2% of alcohol is comparable, whereas 4% of alcohol in a drink (for example a weak beer) slows down regeneration processes since there is increased excretion of urine (further loss of water). Interestingly, the higher alcohol concentration, the worse it gets. Vodka containing 40% ethanol has 10 ml of alcohol and 15 ml of water in a 25 ml portion. Drinking 25 ml of vodka causes discharge of more than 100 ml of water, so the water balance worsens by 85 ml.

Alcohol worsens thermoregulation, for instance it increases heat loss in winter. It has been found that consumption of 2.5 ml of alcohol per kg of body weight resulted in increased heat loss during 3 h long endurance training. It was also found that alcohol impairs adaptation to high and low temperatures.

Alcohol and athletic performance on the day "after"

In many ways, alcohol worsens sports performance. Disrupted functioning of heart and cardiovascular system (increased heart rate), impaired efficiency of the left heart ventricle, high blood pressure followed by dehydration, abnormal pathways of cytokines and prostaglandins (eg. regulation of renal blood flow, secretion of water, sodium, potassium).

Alcohol and injuries

People who regularly consume alcohol are more likely to suffer injury - according to O'Brien and Lyons reports at football players who drank alcohol the risk was 55%, at non-drinking ones - 24%.

Alcohol and fat tissue gains

According to generally accepted converters, in 1 g of ethanol there are 7 kcal, but... similarly to proteins it is an invalid value. Many studies have shown that protein has little energy value (effectively 1 g is hardly 0.8 kcal) but dramatically increases metabolism (25%). Similarly, alcohol is a poor material and energy calculations theories make no sense. Alcohol, like protein, has a huge thermogenic potential and is very resistant to the deposition of adipose tissue (this process is too costly in terms of energy management).

Dr. Anna Kokavec showed that beer reduces cortisol level and causes short time appetite decrease (effect on GLP-1). Red wine boosts cortisol and strongly stimulates appetite. White wine is similar to beer.

Conclusions? You want to lose weight? Drink beer or white wine, cut down on red wine and colourful drinks (for instance juices and other sweetened drinks mixed with vodka and tonic).

Alcohol and muscle gains

Certainly alcohol is not recommended for athletes because:

  • it increases myostatin (inhibitory effect for building muscle mass),
  • reduces glycogen re-synthesis after exercise,
  • reduces inflammation after exercise (as in the case of long-term NSAID, alcohol drinking causes problems with building muscle mass),
  • reduces activation of mTOR path (typical for example in a strength training),
  • may adversely affect insulin and IGF-.1 [4]


In one study of 2010 [5] eleven healthy men did 300 repetitions of maximal eccentric contraction of the quadriceps muscle of one leg on the isokinetic dynamometre. Comment: in the eccentric phase most microinjuries of muscles appear. That's why weighlifters often drop the weight on the floor after a clean or snatch - to minimize recognized DOMS. After the workout the men consumed 1 g of alcohol per kilogramme of body (in a form of vodka orange juice mixture) - the ALC day. So, a person weighing 100 kg would drink 100 g of ethanol (one 500 ml, 6% beer contains 30 ml of ethanol). Thus, the subjects had to consume the equivalent of five and a half beers, 500 ml, 4.5% (~ 2.77 l), two and a half 10% beers (~ 1.25 l) and 250 ml of 40% spirit.

On another day the subjects consumed the caloric equivalent of the alcohol in the form of orange juice - the OJ day (orange juice). Maximum torque of muscle strength (isokinetic phase, concentric and eccentric) and isometric were measured, CK (creatine kinase) was marked respectively before, 36 h and 60 h after the training. Sharp decline in the strength was noted 36 and 60 h after the training (regeneration has not yet ended).

The biggest loss in muscle strength was observed thirty-six hours after the training (without alcohol consumption):

  • - 12% (Isometric phase) - a decline of 12%,
  • - 28% (Concentric phase) - a decline of 28%,
  • - 19% (Eccentric phase) - a decline of 19%.

Isometric - increased muscle tension, without altering muscles length.

Concentric - lifting phase. Followed by muscle shortening (contraction).

Eccentric - lowering phase - muscle length increases, fibers are stretched.

But in the group consuming alcohol losses were greater:

  • - 34% (Isometric phase),
  • - 40% (Concentric phase),
  • - 34% (Eccentric phase).

Interestingly, creatine kinase and felt muscle soreness were similar in both groups.

So how much alcohol can sportsmen have after all?

It would be Ideal if you did not have any alcohol at all. You lose vitamin B, zinc, magnesium, you increase severity of dehydration, you adversely affect your endocrine system. And if you have to, according to research relatively safe amount is 0.5 g ethanol per kilogramme of body weight. A person weighing 100 kg could then consume 50 g of ethanol, or 2 half-litre beers (6%), about 150 ml of vodka or 385 g of red wine (13%) and... that's it! An especially bad idea is to drink alcohol before strength training, aerobic, interval or mixed training. Drinking after strength training may not be as bad as it seems, as long as does not exceed a threshold of 0.5 g ethanol per kg of body weight. 1 g per kg of body weight causes a significant loss in muscle recovery, 0.5 g seems a pretty safe amount. Alcohol is the least recommended after a cardio training (may undermine the sense of cardio).

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