The University of Iowa Strength & Conditioning

Effect of Alcohol on Athlete Performance and Recovery

Alcohol and the athlete continue to be linked together both anecdotally within the media and quantitatively in the literature. The detrimental effect of alcohol on human physiology has been well documented with acute alcohol ingestion affecting many aspects of metabolism, neural function, decreased testosterone, cardiovascular physiology, thermoregulation, hydration and skeletal muscle weakness.

Alcohol intake has been demonstrated to impair metabolic pathways that result in the generation of glucose (energy) and reduce muscle glycogen (energy) stores. Glucose (energy) availability plays a pivotal role in endurance performance and further readily available stores of energy are necessary to fuel protein synthesis during muscle recovery from exercise.

Alcohol acts as a depressant and thus acts to reduce central nervous system (CNS) excitability and cerebral activity. Impaired CNS function results in decrements in cognitive function and motor skills. A CNS that is weakened can result in decreases of skilled tasks that require reaction time, fine motor control, levels of arousal, and judgment.

Post exercise alcohol intoxication interferes with the free testosterone and serum testosterone. Testosterone is heavily involved in muscle adaptation induced by training programs that utilize resistance training. The level of alcohol intoxication seems to play an important part in how testosterone levels are affected. It is shown that the greater amount of alcohol consumed the greater amount of damage that is inflicted on testosterone levels.

Aerobic (longer duration, lower intensity) performance has shown to decrease as a result of consuming alcohol post exercise. The chemical processes which take place during aerobic metabolism are negatively altered due to alcohol consumption. Altered chemical processes due to alcohol ingestion can cause an increase in lactate production, which, can be a factor in poor aerobic performance. Alcohol also creates dehydration. Dehydration is associated with a reduction in aerobic performance. Research also shows that a significant decrease in average peak isometric (pausing/holding a static position), concentric (ascending motion), eccentric (descending motion) torques, when consuming alcohol post-exercise.

It is widely recognized that alcohol negatively affects hydration levels, as it act as a diuretic. Dehydration is further enhanced via alcohols influence on peripheral vasodilation (enlargement/expansion of veins and arteries). This primarily increases fluid loss through evaporation, and eliciting a marked fall in core temperature. These affects clearly display potential for an adverse effect on performance.

Skeletal muscle is likely to undergo several detrimental actions in response to alcohol consumption. Chemical process taking place within the muscles are disrupted resulting in impairment of excitation and contraction process occurring in the muscle (decreasing strength output). Increased blood flow to exercised areas of the body is common following intense training. It is often recommended to include treatments of ice baths or compression following training to reduce blood flow to the stressed areal. Alcohol’s vasodilation affects can cause an increase of blood flow to the damaged areas, prolonging recovery.