Running on empty: Alcohol and Nutrition
Part of playing and enjoying sport is learning how to fuel your body appropriately. Different foods provide us with different levels of nutrition, all key to ensuring we recover well and perform at our best.
Adding alcohol and/or other drugs in to the mix will also impact the way our body performs on and off the field. The effects are varied, but we took a look at three of the most important ways alcohol and other drugs can impact our lifestyles and the resulting negative impacts that this can have on a person’s overall health status.
The effect on our hunger
Our body is good at giving us natural signals to tell us when it’s hungry or thirsty. Hunger pains, headaches or a lack of concentration might have you reaching for a snack during the day, or after a game.
While alcohol and other drugs can affect everybody differently, some substances can have an impact on how much we crave food, in many cases masking those natural hunger signals.
Stimulants such as tobacco, caffeine (a common ingredient in pre-workouts), cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine affect the levels of dopamine in the brain. Higher levels of dopamine reduce appetite, by making the body feel like it is satisfied.
It’s not only stimulants that impact appetite, many people who over-consume alcohol (a depressant) also experience low appetite. This is because alcohol is high in calories, and over-consumption can ‘trick’ the body into thinking that it has already eaten. Cannabis can have the opposite effect, increasing appetite, and reducing feelings of ‘fullness’, which can result in weight gain.
When we’re not in tune with what our body really craves, it can be easy to fuel it inefficiently. It’s important to keep in mind the effects of different substances, including alcohol and other drugs, in order to keep your body and mind healthy.
The effect on post-game recovery
Post-game celebrations are increasingly being geared towards alcohol – but have you ever wondered what effect this is having on your team’s ability to compete next week?
High-intensity exercise is taxing on our bodies; it takes time and the appropriate nutrition and hydration to get us back to our best. High alcohol consumption completely impairs this process, making recovery much slower.
If you have a soft-tissue injury, the effect is even worse. Drinking alcohol while recovering from a calf or hamstring strain has the effect of opening up bloody vessels and leading to more swelling at the site.
The effect on our lifestyles
It’s also important to consider the way in which drug dependence has an effect on our lifestyles, including our likelihood to prioritise healthy eating.
Not only are we less likely to make healthy choices following a night of drinking, substance use can also reduce the nutritional status of the food we do eat. Substance misuse can place a significant amount of stress on organs and functions within the body, leading to a loss of nutrients and negatively impacting functions such as digestion – the main way our bodies access nutrients.
Importantly, being well nourished is also proven to assist some people with the management of conditions that may drive people to over-use substances in the first place e.g. chronic pain, mild anxiety and depression.