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Nutrition with Ed Caddye: Is alcohol your frenemy?

Hockey has a complex relationship with drinking but bingeing can seriously impact performance

With summer upon us, it becomes the social norm to eat vast amounts of grilled food and drink a fair amount of beer, wine or spirits (or all three at once through some deadly contraption if you’re on tour). However, after the recent review on the scientific literature behind alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations as they relate to muscular performance, perhaps it is time to re-think that weekly binge for when pre-season training begins.

Self-restraint with alcohol may (unfortunately) be the key to your best season yet!

This can be a touchy subject. For those that play hockey for the Saturday night social, I apologise in advance. However, without question, excessive alcohol consumption damages the liver. It has also been shown to reduce brain volume1, increase the risk of stroke2, be detrimental to cardiovascular health3 and disturb your sleep4,5. All of these responses will indirectly affect athletic performance, but is there a more direct link?

It is under-reported that the muscle fibres which are involved in generating strength and power are particularly susceptible to alcohol. The stimulation of muscle cell repair (protein synthesis) is blocked in response to both acute and chronic alcohol consumption6. This 15-20% decrease in synthetic rate can be observed for up to 24 hours after the binge. Worryingly, this also impacts heart muscle through the same mechanism7. Bianco et al.8 define binge drinking as 1.5g of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight (1.5g/kg), which is about 6-8 drinks. This is enough to cause a significant increase in cortisol production (the stress hormone) and reduce testosterone levels in males by 23.9 per cent. In females there is actually an increase in androgen production which leads to health issues including breast cancer and problems with fertility. Clearly, these prolonged effects of a “one-off” binge shouldn’t really be swept under the astroturf.

So, how can we apply this knowledge? Simply avoid drinking to excess. You’ll not only be healthier in general, but you’ll recover faster, be stronger in the gym and on the field, have higher quality sleep and as a result feel much more content with yourself and your performance. You might also avoid being embarrassed on social media!

References

1. Lisdahl, K. M., Thayer, R., Squeglia, L. M., McQueeny, T. M. & Tapert, S. F. Recent binge drinking predicts smaller cerebellar volumes in adolescents. Psychiatry Res. 211, 17–23 (2013).

2. Rantakömi, S. H., Kurl, S., Sivenius, J., Kauhanen, J. & Laukkanen, J. A. The frequency of alcohol consumption is associated with the stroke mortality. Acta Neurol. Scand. (2014). doi:10.1111/ane.12243

3. Ryu, M., Gombojav, B., Nam, C. M., Lee, Y. & Han, K. Modifying Effects of Resting Heart Rate on the Association of Binge Drinking with All-cause and Cardiovascular Mortality in Older Korean Men: the Kangwha Cohort Study. J. Epidemiol. Jpn. Epidemiol. Assoc. (2014).

4. Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J. & Fenwick, P. B. Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep. Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. 37, 539`–549 (2013).

5. Canham, S. L., Kaufmann, C. N., Mauro, P. M., Mojtabai, R. & Spira, A. P. Binge drinking and insomnia in middle-aged and older adults: the Health and Retirement Study. Int. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry (2014). doi:10.1002/gps.4139

6. Vary, T. C. & Lang, C. H. Assessing effects of alcohol consumption on protein synthesis in striated muscles. Methods Mol. Biol. Clifton NJ 447, 343–355 (2008).

7. Vary, T. C., Deiter, G. & Lantry, R. Chronic alcohol feeding impairs mTOR(Ser 2448) phosphorylation in rat hearts. Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. 32, 43–51 (2008).

8. Bianco, A. et al. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutr. Metab. 11, 26 (2014).

9. Välimäki, M., Tuominen, J. A., Huhtaniemi, I. & Ylikahri, R. The pulsatile secretion of gonadotropins and growth hormone, and the biological activity of luteinizing hormone in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. 14, 928–931 (1990).

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