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Nutrition: Alcohol Use and Athletes

Historically, society has held numerous myths concerning the drinking and drug-related habits of high school athletes. Because of the detrimental effects of alcohol on performance, one might think that serious athletes would be less likely to drink alcohol, but this is not the case.

The tables below illustrates that there is some cause for concern with regard to alcohol use in male high school athletes:

Comparison of High School Male and Female Athletes and Non-Athletes on the Frequency of Alcohol Consumption:


Comparison of High School Male and Female Athletes and Non-Athletes on Perceived Experience of Intoxication:

The bad news: Alcohol is the most abused drug in the United States. Prolonged consumption can lead to cellular changes in the liver, heart, brain and muscle and result in cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irregular heart beats, stroke and malnutrition. Moderate drinkers have a higher risk of oral cancer, and women who drink may have a higher risk of breast cancer. Because alcohol is a highly addictive substance, it has a high potential for abuse and is associated with adverse effects on health and safety.

Alcohol for athletes: Alcohol is a depressant and offers no edge for athletes—apart from killing pain. You can’t be sharp, quick and drunk. Alcohol has a destructive effect on reaction time, hand-eye coordination, accuracy, balance and overall coordination. It does not improve strength, power, speed or endurance.

  • Alcohol is a poor source of carbohydrates. You may get loaded with beer, but your muscles won’t get carbo-loaded.
  • Alcohol actually hinders the recovery process and slows down the rate at which the body replenishes muscle glycogen stores.
  • Alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach into the bloodstream, appearing within 5 minutes after consumption. Post-exercise, alcohol on an empty stomach can quickly contribute to a drunken stupor. Your liver breaks down alcohol at a fixed rate—less than 4 oz. of wine or can of beer per hour. Exercise does not hasten that process.
  • Alcohol has a dehydrating effect. Dehydration is a major problem for many athletes. Water loss of 4% to 5% of body weight can result in a 20% to 30% drop in work capacity. At least have a glass of water for every beer.
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