The Impact of Alcohol on Health, Performance, and Recovery

You might have encountered this dilemma before: you want to enjoy some drinks with friends, but you’re worried that the alcohol and extra calories might negatively affect your training. It’s difficult to weight the pros and cons in this situation if you aren’t familiar with the ways in which alcohol can affect your body. In this post I’ll cover how alcohol impacts different aspects of your health, athletic performance, and recovery. Hopefully this information can help you to make more informed decisions regarding your drinking habits and behaviors.

Impact of Alcohol on Health

The truth is I can’t tell you exactly how alcohol consumption will impact your health because everyone is different. There are several factors which influence the way alcohol is metabolized in your body including genetics, biological sex, body mass, nutritional status, activity level, and amount/timing of consumption (Barnes, 2014). Here I’ll give you a general overview of the science behind alcohol metabolism and how it affects health.

Hydration

You probably already knew this one, but one of the most noticeable effects of alcohol is its ability to dehydrate you. Normally, a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) helps your body to retain water and keep your cells well-hydrated and functioning properly. However, ethanol, the type of alcohol in drinks, blocks the effects of ADH leading to excess urination and dehydration (Shirreffs and Maughan, 2006).

About 5 months ago, I reached out to my viewers to find out what they were interested in when it came to learning about triathlon and BEYOND. One of my questions was, “What would you like to see more of on “JenRulon.com” Blog?”  Almost 65% of you said “Every Day Nutrition.”  I couple of you chimed in saying that you were vegan. DAMN, I know NOTHING about that, so I figured I would do some research.  On a side note, I opted to take out dairy for a month now and honestly, it has been going really well. At first, I missed it but I was relying on it as a source of protein. Now, I am forced to cook and eat Greek Yogurt and Granola for Dinner :) 

Eating Vegan: Benefits and Caveats

Veganism has been around for decades but has gained more attention in recent years. In fact, the number of Google searches for the term “vegan” has nearly tripled since 2014! Because of its rise in popularity, more and more people are asking about its benefits, drawbacks, and practicality, especially for serious athletes. In this post I’ll describe what a vegan diet is, explain some of its biggest health benefits, and mention some caveats and recommendations for those considering it.

What is a Vegan Diet?

According to the Vegan Society, “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” In terms of nutrition, that means not consuming dairy, eggs, meat, or any other products of animal origin. This is different from a more general vegetarian diet, in which meats are avoided but other animal-based products may be consumed.

Benefits

While some people decide to avoid animal products for ethical or environmental reasons, many adhere to a vegan diet for its proven health benefits.

Weight Loss

One of the best-known health benefits of a vegan diet is its ability to help shed extra pounds. Removing animal products means replacing them with foods that are naturally less calorically dense and packed with fiber. This means that it’s possible to feel more satisfied while eating fewer calories!

Several randomized control studies (the gold standard in scientific research) demonstrate that a vegan diet is associated with significantly greater weight-loss and reduction in body mass index (BMI) scores, EVEN when compared to other more conventional low-fat, vegetarian diets (Jakse et al., 2017; Moore et al., 2015; Turner-McGrievy et al., 2017; Turner-McGrievy et al., 2007). Moreover, the subjects in several of these studies were permitted to eat ad libitum, or until they were satisfied, meaning that they didn’t have to restrict their food intake to lose weight.