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The Effects of Alcohol on your Health and Fitness

With pay day for a lot of people this past weekend, it marked the end of Dry January for some people (apart from the dedicated few that will wait until Tuesday). And we’re bound to see social media posts on our Facebook and Instagram feeds on how healthy they have felt by doing January... or maybe they didn’t see any changes at all!

But that’s merely a coincidence to what inspired me to write this blog. I didn’t drink until I was nearly 22 years old. I was a big advocate on staying healthy when I was younger and drinking was just was something I wasn’t interested in doing. A part of me feared the feeling of being drunk with losing control. To this day, I still don’t like that and know my limit… with very rare exceptions that will not be discussed on this forum ;)

But before I started drinking, lets just say it was a very special birthday for my Dad. And for the last 10 years I’ve heard him rant repeatedly about how his only son wouldn’t sit down with him and share one whiskey with him on his special birthday (I couldn’t be disclosing or dropping hints on what age he was on this particular birthday). Like my Dad, I can be very stubborn. No drink meant no drink. No exceptions. Not then, not ever. Or so I thought back then.

And so 10 years later, I made my way down to the family home in Wicklow to celebrate his birthday and I couldn’t help but think of own mind set and attitude to drinking 10 years ago. Let’s just say that it has been, eh, modified, since then. 

Like I said, no hints at all on his age...

Like I said, no hints at all on his age...

So I decided to tackle how alcohol actually affects the body. How healthy was I really being stay completely sober? We all see articles online from time to time about how alcohol, in particular red wine, can actually be good for you. Can it really? 

For those of you holding on to a glimmer of hope that the conclusion of this blog was that starting to drink alcohol at nearly 22 years of age was the greatest health decision of my life… there is still hope!

In fact a study performed in 5 Spanish universities discovered that the consumption of red wine was “inversely associated with the risk of the common cold.” A glass a day keeps the cold away? Unfortunately, beer has no affect.

We’ve all read before that a glass of red wine can be beneficial, although that it can prevent the risk of the common cold is probably new to most of us. But that’s probably due to the fruit, right? Alcohol it’s self must be completely bad for us.

Not necessarily it seems (oh God, can it be true that drinking is good for us?!). According to the study, a combination of alcohol and red wine is actually more beneficial than red wine without alcohol (is that a thing?). However, I must be a complete buzz kill (no pun intended) and stress before this blog goes any further that according to the American Hearts Association this only applies to healthy people and not those with any conditions that could be aggravated by alcohol and also that they recommend only up to a glass a day for women and two glasses for men.

Another review of 84 studies has moderate alcohol consumers (one or less drink a day) being 14-25% less likely to develop heart disease in comparison to those who lead an alcohol free lifestyle. There has even been studies on weight loss benefits as one study of 7,230 US adults found that women who drank at least one glass a day weighed 2.3kg lighter than non drinkers. Although this was back in the 70s and 80s and doesn’t take into account a lot of variables including the fact that 2.3kg lighter does not necessarily translate to healthier. Consider this the turning point in the blog where the bubble bursts...

Moderation is key. Although if moderation is only a glass a day, not drinking for the week and then catching up by drinking 5 on the Friday evening is not beating the system!

Although there are benefits to drinking alcohol in moderation, that word ‘moderation’ has a huge difference from what a lot of people perceive the word to be in comparison to one beer or glass of wine a day. More than one glass a day can lead to low coordination and slower reflexes over time (not just while consuming…) as well as heavier drinking leading health risks including heart problems, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Damn! Now 21 year old me is screaming 'why did I ever touch the poison?!'

Damn! Now 21 year old me is screaming 'why did I ever touch the poison?!'

Alcohol the night before exercise is not a good idea as you become more dehydrated and they can affect your blood sugar levels. This is obviously not a good thing if you are competing in any sports. But even if you are exercising in general, you’re not getting your full potential out of the session.

It can confuse the liver and affect glucose production (which is a factor in how alcohol can contribute to diabetes). Sugar content is probably not the first thing a lot of us think about when we think about seemingly the infinite amount of unhealthy effects of alcohol.

sugar alcohol content

I don’t like using images like this to be honest. I did google check some of the above examples with other sources. Take the above images as rough estimates especially the lager ones. For example, a lot of sites claim Guinness is indeed 5 teaspoons of sugar while a few other sites claim that a Gin and Tonic is 4 teaspoons as opposed to 5.5 teaspoons. So please don’t take these figures as gospel but rather a rough guideline to the amount of sugar in alcoholic drinks. As much as tried to find alternative answers, the baileys 2 teaspoons seems accurate... damn you Christmas.

Sugar is detrimental to your health and fitness goals and consumption of a vast amount of sugar can easily be obtained on a night out.

The last thing I want for this blog to come across as is preachy. Not even 21 year old teetotaller me was preachy. He was just stubborn. With Dry January just about over and the talk of the effects of alcohol consuming our social media posts and radio discussions, I feel like the articles I researched has helped me understand how much moderation is key. I don’t look back on whether I should have taken up drinking or not. Unless you're competing at the highest level, banishing yourself completely from alcohol, especially if you do enjoy a sociable drink with family or friends, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Do what works for you… unless you play on the same football team as me; then stay the hell away from drink on the weekend of a game!

And yes, after the 10 years wait, I did sit down and have a "few" of those whiskeys with my Dad