Summer is here which means pool parties, picnics in the sun, and hiking… often involving alcohol in some capacity. Drinking lowers our inhibitions and lets us cut loose while enjoying the simple pleasure of being ourselves around friends. It’s also common knowledge that drinking leads to poorer food choices, poorer post-bar choices, and poorer next-morning performance. Surprisingly, what appears to be short-lived consequences that you can ghost in the morning or sweat out at the gym actually have a lasting impact on your overall health.
First off, alcohol affects every body differently. Body size, body composition, and genetics play a role, as does how often you drink and how much. Therefore everyone’s excess is different and shouldn’t be used as a measure for judgment. However, when you start to feel fuzzy, stumble or slur your words is when your health might start to be impacted.
The sum total of all chemical reactions in our bodies, our metabolism breaks down nutrients for energy – think carbs and fat. We can also use ethanol (the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages) as an energy source. However, ethanol is toxic to humans in high amounts which means that the liver will prioritize processing ethanol in hopes of flushing it out of the body.
While the liver is processing ethanol, we slow down or stop the metabolism of other nutrients, specifically fat. Thus that fat gets stored elsewhere in our body (a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.)
Stops or Decreases Muscle Building
Exercise, especially strength training, produces small amounts of (positive) damage to the muscle. Over the next 48 hours, the body rebuilds the damaged muscle. Do this enough and that’s how our muscles grow and we tone up.
One of the key hormones to this muscle-building process is Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which naturally occurs in the body. However, when alcohol is present, our body produces less HGH. Drinking more than a moderate amount during this 48-hour period can sabotage the muscle’s ability to recover and adapt to the exercise, leaving us scratching our heads when looking in the mirror.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you have to pee more by affecting how your kidneys reabsorb fluids. When you drink and don’t replenish those fluids before going to bed, you’re likely to wake up dehydrated.
This is important because hydration helps your body circulate blood and oxygen to your muscles and keep your blood pressure regulated so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. And as we approach summer, water becomes even more important for regulating our body’s temperature. Too little water? We overheat and our heart rate increases.
Our bodies are mostly water, yet it comes as a shock to most that it’s recommended to drink half of our body weight in ounces each day (e.g. if you weigh 200lbs, then 100oz of water or 5 Yeti mugs.)
Impacts Your Sleep
A glass of wine might make you drowsy and aid in falling asleep, but alcohol actually causes your body to spend less time in deep sleep and causes frequent sleep disturbances. This causes a decrease in HGH and testosterone production and can lead to chronic inflammation. And although you may sleep longer after consuming alcohol, the quality of your sleep suffers so you still wake up feeling exhausted.
Weight Gain (Real and Perceived)
Combining the above factors, alcohol can really set the stage for weight gain. It could be the tiredness leading to less-healthy food choices. Perhaps it’s the sugary mixers adding calories that your body isn’t processing. Or maybe it’s harder to put on muscle (which burns more calories). All of those are long-term consequences. However, alcohol causes inflammation which causes you to bloat and look puffy while drinking – adding a few perceived pounds to the scale.
Alcohol may have many negative physical effects on the body, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its time and place. It’s a great way to relax and chill with friends over the weekend. But everything has a trade-off, so this summer it might be a good idea to think twice before guzzling down the extra White Claw just because they are low-cal!