Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alcohol And Training - Can You Drink And Make Progress?

Alcohol is a deeply ingrained part of British life , and a real point of struggle for many of our clients. Now, your bog standard fitness blog will tackle this issue with something as useful and insightful as "drinking is bad , mmkay?"

Or " it's a simple choice between being fat and unhealthy, or not drinking"

But in truth, it's not. For many it's a choice between socialising with their friends or not (the glib, pious personal trainer answer to this would be "get new friends")

For others it's a choice between progressing their career or not
(ask any city professional where the best networking gets done and the most strategic relationships are solidified and they'll tell you it's over drinks)

Booze is a social lubricant, a rapport building shortcut, and the linchpin of just about any social occasion. So as trainers are we living in the real world when we tell our clients not to drink? I don't think so.

I've been doing this a while, I know a lot of personal trainers and most of them drink, some drink heavily.

Now, they also train every day, are generally young, eat well and lead fairly low stress lives all of which tips the balance in their favour. But the fact remains that when you get a load of fitness people together at the various events we attend its usually as anarchic as any office piss-up. So the standard fitness industry advice to avoid alcohol is quite hypocritical.

Never the less , It's an unavoidable fact that excess alcohol consumption is unhealthy, slows weight loss and at extremes can be very destructive.

I grew up in Ireland, which is effectively the international school for binge drinking so this is a subject I know a little about. So do I think people need to cut out alcohol to get in great shape? No.

The negative effects of non- ridiculous alcohol consumption have, in my humble opinion, been overstated in the fitness world.

I've done 8 weeks totally booze free, and honestly I can't say that it was worth it.

That's my subjective opinion. But when we look at the research it seems to back me up. The oft touted testosterone sapping effects for example , are in reality so minimal as to be insignificant unless you are drinking quite heavily or drinking every day. (One study showed a 6.8% drop in testosterone following 3 weeks of drinking 3 beers a day every day. I don't advocate drinking every day. Another showed a more significant reduction for 16 hours only after the equivalent of 10 beers. Granted, in Ireland that would be known as "Sunday afternoon", but for most people thats still a fair amount of booze)

There is even some research to suggest that moderate drinking can improve insulin sensitivity (But what's moderate? That's another story. By the way if you want references I can put them in the comment section, I'm doing some mind numbing cardio as I write this and can't be bothered to dig it out. So instead you get me brain-dumping. Nice!)

The main issue with alcohol is that it interferes with the liver in a way that causes other calories consumed to be more readily stored as fat. This is compounded with the fact that we tend to make more indulgent good choices when we drink. It's been my gut feeling for years that stupid food choices while drinking and on the following day have a greater impact on the waistline than the alcohol itself.

So, how can we minimise the negative effects of alcohol while still enjoying the odd drink?

A few caveats. Binge drinking is unhealthy. Alcohol can be a very destructive and dangerous drug. It has messed up lives and had ill effects on millions of families including my own. It can also cause you to sleep with ugly people. I'm not saying you should drink as much as you like and there won't be consequences. But you're probably going to so here's my suggestions.

1- keep it to once a week.

2- on the day you are going to drink, consume as little fat and carbohydrates as possible. Stick to protein sources like chicken and to green veg.

3- alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water. The bubbles slow you down more than still water would.

4- don't make stupid food choices the next day, get right back on track with eating proper food and keep it lower carb.

5- stick to low sugar drinks. Dry white wines or spirits. If you're having mixers make them sugar free. I'll probably get kicked out of the trainer club for advocating "aspartame laden diet drinks" but in this specific circumstance I'd rather a bit of sweetener than the sugar.

6- don't take this as carte Blanche to drink as much as you like. No matter what way you look at it , 8 hour drinking binges aren't healthy. Don't do it and think it won't have consequences. You're an adult. Understand the consequences and make your mind up.

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