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Ditch alcohol to get the most from your workout

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Alcohol Hinders Performance and Prolongs Injury

Published: 04/05/2012

With the winter sport season in full play, many elite sporting clubs urge their athletes to ditch alcohol.

While some codes impose strict alcohol policies during their sporting season, others ban consumption all together in the hope of outlaying the best performance from their players.

The Australian Football League (AFL) follows the Responsible Alcohol Policy Framing Guidelines which were developed to assist AFL clubs in “the use of player welfare-oriented and education-based approaches to promote responsible alcohol consumption”.

Although professional teams generally strive for zero-alcohol during their season, the policy was designed to encourage players to responsibly consume alcohol, if any, not only during the game-season, but also in the off-season.

It’s no secret that excessive alcohol consumption has various negative effects on the body, which is why sporting clubs impose alcohol restrictions on their athletes. Of course, it’s not only elite athletes who are exposed to the negative effects of alcohol, so how exactly can alcohol affect your training and sports performance?

Sports Dietician Dominique Condo, from the Dieticians Association of Australia, said drinking one glass of alcohol the night before training is not likely to affect performance, especially if the athlete has followed it with suitable food and fluids, including carbohydrates and plenty of water.

“However, drinking alcohol in excess the night before training can affect performance because alcohol is a depressant drug,” she said.

This is contrary to the popular belief that alcohol is a stimulant. The Australian Sports Commission states that as a depressant, alcohol "slows down activity in the central nervous system, including the brain."

“Therefore it can have a negative effect on concentration, coordination and reaction time. It can also lead to dehydration and poor decision making,” Ms Condo said.

As alcohol dehydrates the body, it is essential that you fully recover and rehydrate after a heavy drinking session, before training or exercising. An intense work out will not rid you of a hangover. Sweating it out will dehydrate you more, making you feel worse.

Alcohol often plays a role in celebrating successes, team building, and socialising, but it can be just as harmful if consumed after training as it is when consumed before.

“If you haven’t recovered [from training] with appropriate food and fluids, the alcohol can impair your recovery and therefore have a negative effect on performance during subsequent training sessions," Ms Condo said.

Alcohol not only affects your performance during the game but it can also impair your recovery from injuries.

“An athlete that is injured should avoid alcohol as it increases blood flow to the area which is likely to extend the recovery process,” she said.

The Australian Sports Commission explains how consuming alcohol can extend the recovery time following an injury.

“Soft tissue injury management requires reducing blood flow to the area in order to contain the injury. Consuming alcohol has the opposite effect.”

Ms Condo said in the long term, high alcohol intake may result in “weight gain and fat deposition” which can be an issue for those aiming to maintain low body fat or weight.

“Concentrated drinks, including shots of spirits, full strength beers and heavy wines can result in a net fluid loss and lead to dehydration,” she said.

Consuming these types of drinks regularly, especially if they are mixed with soft drinks or juices, can add significant kilojoules to your diet.

Ms Condo recommends those in training, or with considerable exercise schedules who decide to drink, should “eat before or while they are drinking, select low-alcoholic drinks, pace yourself, plan your quantity of alcohol prior to drinking, and rehydrate well before going to bed.”

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