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February 19, 2019

A Month Without Alcohol: A Discussion On Alcohol and Athletics





   NO alcohol for me for one month...Woah, in Wisconsin that is like the equivalent of 1 year! This started as a little exercise in willpower and to detox my body after a long Holiday season and turned into a great learning experience!  Let me give you the low-down of my experience.

How I Felt?

   Honestly, I feel amazing! I sleep better, eat better, my workouts have been better, and joints feel less inflamed. Along with no alcohol, this last month I also significantly increased my veggie and fruit intake, and super limited grains in my diet. If I did eat grains, it was only oats during the week and maybe a bit of corn( Cut out my trigger food - popcorn!). Only 2 out of the 4 weekends did I eat any Gluten(wheat). Am I allergic to alcohol or grains? - No. But do I feel better with less or none - Yes. I will dive down the Grains/Gluten rabbit hole some other Blog post. The point is, less alcohol paired with cutting out inflammatory foods and upping quantities of anti-inflammatory foods = a better feeling body! 

Cravings? 

   Honestly, the hardest part is the "want", the mental struggle with yourself. During the week, resisting alcohol isn't so hard, but the weekend can be tough with so many opportunities to drink! I am not someone that hangs out at bars often on the weekend, I don't even eat out that often so it was not as hard as it could have been; but it's still tough when you're out for dinner with your family and just want your favorite "dessert" beer. 

   The more you tell yourself - "I don't actually NEED this" and ask yourself: "Is this beer really going to make dinner with my family that much better?" - You will figure out it's not essential. It gets easier the more you exercise self control. 

What Alcohol Does To Our Bodies

   Ok, I don't care HOW many articles we read about how beer or wine is "good" for us for one reason or another - it's not. It is a poison. Sure, there are antioxidants in wine! Well guess what? You can find those same antioxidants in a superfood without all of the negative affects. Beer is fermented, well so is Kombucha, so just have that! See what I am getting at? 

   Alcohol is a poison because in the metabolizing process(breaking down) phase of digesting it becomes something called Acetaldehyde - a highly toxic substance which is also a carcinogen. It is taken out of the body by an enzyme called ALDH and expelled from the body as water and carbon dioxide and your body expels it as quickly as it can. On average, the human body can only metabolize approximately 1 drink per 90 minutes. This does vary depending on genes and physical traits of the person. Like my body must metabolize alcohol very slowly because my hangovers can last for days if I drink a lot, and I can get a light hangover symptoms the next day from even 1 drink. 

   Not to forget our alcohol here in the United States is laced with many more preservatives and toxins than other countries because we value the shelf life of our alcohol over the toxicity. It is said that hangovers are noticeably less overseas. Also, if you are a beer drinker, beer is made primarily from grains and thus very pro-inflammatory. 

   Yes, I have read articles boasting of the momentary metabolism boosting affects of alcohol, but there are other ways you can boost your metabolism without drinking. Working out, getting a full nights sleep, weight training, building muscle mass, eating foods with a high thermogenic affect(high fiber foods), and metabolism stimulants like caffeine. 

  Drinking can also negatively affect your metabolism in the form of what it does to your Sleep: Drinking messes with your ability to get into REM sleep = bad sleep = hormones become irregular = poorly running metabolism = food craving increase to compensate for no energy = weight gain. 

   Also, if you are like me, drinking makes you a hungry bottomless pit! Combine that with reduced inhibitions (self control included) and you have me eating way more than I need. Alcohol absorption momentarily stops our body from absorbing nutrients because it is focused on metabolizing the alcohol, and acts as a diuretic so the next day you feel depleted, thirsty and hungry.

Conclusion

  I love a good glass of wine like anyone else and a beer to go with my dinner! In fact, I broke my no alcohol streak with a lovely FULL glass of Riesling to go with my Valentine's Dinner of spoon steak, roasted veggies and black bean brownies. Am I wrong for doing so? No, alcohol is like a dessert, not good for you, but not bad in moderation. 

   I am a full believer in balance and also not restriction, but I do realize my idea of restriction is different than yours perhaps. I feel my best and enjoy my life best when I drink 1 drink 1x-2x per week. I also follow that with lots of water before bed to combat dehydration. 

  How much you decide to drink does depend on your goals. Want to lose weight, perform well in your workouts, fight chronic disease, and have a less inflamed body? I recommend to aim to drink 1-2x per week or less(preferably 1 or 0).  Also, when you do drink, aim for 1-2 drinks. If you go hard because you only have 1 day to drink, I think 2 days of 1 drink would be better for your athletic performance. Really it is finding what works for you. However, evaluate your goals and ask yourself: Are my alcohol habits impeding me from achieving my goals?

   Most pro athletes do not have the time to recover from drinking alcohol since their body needs to be at top recovery mode from their training schedules; so most of them barely drink, especially in the height of their training and competition season. You are not a pro athlete, but perhaps treating your body like one wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to it. 

   I do highly recommend cutting out alcohol for a month or more as an experiment. Not only is it good for your body, but incredible for your mind. If you're someone who feels the pressure or "need" to drink in social situations because it is a habit, you will be surprised how little you actually need it compared to how much you thought you needed it! 

  As Crossfitters, we love a good beer and Vodka-FitAid, but we also love to care for our bodies. I hope this makes you think a little about your goals and how alcohol fits into that picture. Also maybe you learned something about alcohol and how I am successful with what I do as well! If you have any questions nutritionally; we are not Nutritionists but we do have a fairly good understanding about health and wellness. Feel free to discuss this topic further, I'd love to converse! 

- Coach Jamie B.