Alcohol maintains a tenuous relationship with exercise

Drinking in college is a reality. Whether or not you choose to drink, alcohol pervades college campuses: tailgates, parties, 21st birthdays and other events can all get boozy.

Alcohol is not just a social tool for college students; it can also have lasting effects on our bodies. Many fitness enthusiasts and body builders argue you shouldn’t touch alcohol at all.

I disagree. Sure, alcohol can increase body fat because of its sugars, but in regard to physical performance and strength training, alcohol isn’t the problem. Alcohol doesn’t have noticeable shortcomings when it comes to exercise, and really, if you’re keeping up with a strong fitness routine, you shouldn’t have to worry about enjoying a drink. Alcohol alone isn’t going to destroy your body.

Body builders and those trying to improve strength avoid alcohol to keep the body at its peak muscle building stage. Their argument postulates that alcohol reduces the body’s testosterone, which is essential to building muscle. By drastically altering the production of hormones, growth is thrown off its natural progression.

Except, this isn’t really what happens to the body. Though alcohol can cut testosterone production by almost a quarter, it’s only for less than a day and only if you binge drink. A number of studies point out that drinking soon after a muscle-training exercise produced only nominal testosterone loss.

Similarly, those opposed to drinking bring up a number of obstacles that are preventable if you know what you’re doing. These advocates say alcohol dehydrates the body and diminishes the vitamins and minerals key to growing muscles. This is true physiologically, but these effects can be avoided: Take vitamins as a way to combat the effects of alcohol. Or, as most people working on building muscle should already be doing, drink copious amounts of water throughout the day and before bed to stay hydrated.

Of course, the biggest argument against drinking is that it disrupts muscle recovery by throwing off sleep patterns. For all the nutrients you pack into the body and the weights you lift, your body still needs rest, as muscles grow the most during sleep.

But, sleep patterns for college students aren’t the best to begin with. Rest is important, but the argument against drinking seems more tied to a decrease in nutrients, which can be easily solved with extra water and vitamins.

Others might wonder about muscle strength.

If alcohol doesn’t dramatically hurt mass accumulation, does it still risk affecting how powerful the muscles are? Remember, size does not equal strength. Look at Bruce Lee, for instance. Some studies have found decreased power and coordination in alcoholics, but only in that group. For those who are not substance abusers, there’s no sign alcohol makes the body weaker, even while drinking.

There are some claims that drinking can leave the body sluggish and the cardiovascular system strained, but this is more tied to nutrient deprivation as opposed to drinking, as moderate alcohol consumption can actually boost cardiovascular health. So a little drinking — just not before exercise — can actually help the body perform better. Alcohol doesn’t weaken muscles and it doesn’t seem to stall strength gain either. Like mass gains, if there are any negative effects from alcohol, they are more treatable symptoms than serious obstacles.

Of course, everyone knows heavy drinking isn’t a good thing. Sure, it doesn’t drastically affect physical fitness, but that doesn’t mean you should down a six-pack of beer after finishing 10 sets of bench presses. What this does mean is if you’re working on creating a diet regimen designed to maximize strength building, then you don’t have to rule out all alcohols.

And exercise, particularly strength training exercises, can actually help the body deal with alcohol. Stimulating the muscles releases endorphins and gets the blood flowing, which helps muscles recover from any of the physical effects of drinking. The two might not be a perfect match, but they are not completely incompatible either — and for some college students, this is good news.

So, don’t panic over alcohol. If you do drink from time to time and are working on growing stronger, you should be fine as long as your diet and workout plan are sound. Enjoy a nice drink.


Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Way of the Body” runs Tuesdays.

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