Drinking alcohol can be great fun, but the day after can make you consider swearing it off FOREVER. That’s why having a few EFFECTIVE strategies for reducing the effects of alcohol on your body is a must, especially if you need to perform at your best.
This article will give you the facts regarding how alcohol affects metabolism, building muscle, and athletic performance. Then you’ll get five excellent ways to get rid of alcohol with the least damage possible to the body.
Here’s what we know about alcohol, body composition, and performance:
#1: Moderation Works!
True moderation (1 to 2 drinks, depending on body size and tolerance) doesn’t significantly affect athletic performance the next day.
#2: Alcohol & Athletic Performance
Much more than 2 drinks and you’re in for reduced strength, poor cognition, and slower reaction time. In one study in which trained men had three vodkas with a meal, the ability to generate force rapidly was reduced by 45 percent the day after. Smaller doses of alcohol (1.5 vodkas) didn’t have any negative effect on performance—yes, moderation works!
#3: Alcohol & Building Muscle
Alcohol significantly reduces the rate of protein synthesis, which means that you’ll build less muscle if you’re a frequent drinker. In practical terms, this means that alcohol has the greatest influence on muscle building when you drink after a hard workout, since alcohol slows recovery by reducing protein synthesis by 15 to 20 percent, and downregulating anabolic gene expression of the muscle-building mTOR.
Drinking alcohol appears to be less of a problem before a hypertrophy-type workout (as in the day before, we’re not talking about training drunk here), because you can still thrash you muscles even if your strength isn’t at its peak.
#4: Alcohol & Hormones—Testosterone, Estrogen, Cortisol
Hormones are also affected by alcohol: Studies show that the stress hormone cortisol is most affected by alcohol use. Binge drinking (6 drinks at a time or more) produces a large spike in cortisol that lasts for up to 24 hours.
For example, one study showed an average increase in cortisol of 152 percent 4 hours after the last drink was finished. Another showed that a large alcohol dose (about 8 drinks) led to a severe reduction in the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio that was much more than expected based on how cortisol increased after a moderate alcohol dose (3 drinks).
Altered hormone levels indicate prolonged stress, which may impair recovery and adaptations from training.
Studies that have tested testosterone alone without cortisol show that moderate drinking with food doesn’t negatively affect testosterone production in men. Binge drinking (upwards of 6 drinks at a time) decreases testosterone in men, and chronic use suppresses testosterone levels by acting as a “testicular toxin.”
Studies done on humans show little effect of alcohol use on estrogen levels in either gender. There is evidence from cell studies that it increases aromatization in which testosterone is changed to estrogen, but human evidence is lacking.
#5: Alcohol and Fat Loss
When it comes to losing fat, drinking frequently isn’t going to do you any favors. Not only is alcohol providing “empty calories” that are devoid of nutrition and simply need to be stored or burned, it turns off “fat burning” while you’re metabolizing it. Worse yet, the foods we often crave when drinking or when hungover tend to be fatty, high-carb junk, which is a bad combination if you want to minimize metabolic damage.
Nonetheless, there are a few things you can do to reduce the negative metabolic effects of alcohol. Alcohol is primarily broken down in the liver to acetate by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. When alcohol is present in the blood, fat burning is “turned off” throughout the body, which means that if you have a calorie surplus at this time, your body will store the energy as fat.
Therefore, drinking excessively while consuming a large amount of calories, particularly from fat and carbs is going to lead to fat storage. This is not such a problem if you’re having one drink with dinner. A 150-pound male, for example, can metabolize about 8 to 12 grams of alcohol an hour, which equals 1/3 to 1/2 ounces. This is the amount in one bottle of beer or half an ounce of whiskey, but more than that and it’s very likely that any excess calories you eat will be promptly stored as fat.
Regarding carbs, again moderate alcohol intake will only contribute to your total calories, but more than a drink or two with a meal and you spike insulin, altering blood sugar tolerance and generally creating a bad environment for high-carb foods.
Your best bet food-wise when drinking is to opt for protein and low-carb, high-fiber foods such as vegetables and some fruits. This combination will slow down the rate at which alcohol hits your blood, which gives the liver more time to metabolize and eliminate it. Protein meals also stimulate enzyme production and blood flow to the liver for enhanced metabolism. The vegetables and/or low-carb fruit provide water for hydration and antioxidant compounds to counter the oxidative stress that is a result of alcohol use.
#6: There is a hierarchy in terms of alcohol:
Calorie-wise, dry wines tend to be lowest in calories, averaging less than 90 per drink. Liquors tend to have slightly over 100 calories per drink, and beer comes in on the high end with around 150 calories per drink. You can find detailed calorie counts on the Internet if you’re interested.
Red wine really does have some health benefits! It probably is your best choice if you enjoy having a drink at the end of the day. Red wine contains antioxidants, though the concentrations may be too small to convey significant health benefits.
For example, most of the studies suggesting wonderful benefits from red wine have been from in vitro cell studies using large doses. Quercetin, a phenolic compound in red wine stands out for decreasing oxidative damage and promoting optimal estrogen metabolism by at least two different mechanisms. Researchers suggest pinot noir as a good choice.
Beer is generally bad news, particularly for men. First, it’s highest in calories and very easy to binge on due to the low alcohol content. Large-scale surveys show that as little as one beer a day is associated with increased belly fat, whereas wine doesn’t appear to have a waist-widening effect. Heavy beer drinking of 4 or more beers a day significantly increases belly fat levels.
Now that you’ve got the facts, here are a few simple ways to get rid of alcohol with the least damage possible on the body.
Tip #1: Eat probiotic foods.
Probiotic foods such as high-quality yogurt, pickled foods, and kim chi all contain probiotic bacteria that are beneficial for the gut and the liver, and can accelerate elimination of toxins from the body.
Increasing probiotic intake has been shown to reduce oxidative damage caused by alcohol. In one study a probiotic supplement that was added to milk significantly reduced the production of inflammatory markers more than a vitamin E supplement. The probiotic mixture was also thought to reduce gastric stress caused by alcohol.
Use It: Try kombucha tea & kefir—they’re easy to stomach after a night out. Miso, tempeh, pickled vegetables like ginger or seaweed, or sauerkraut, and yogurt all contain probiotics. Supplements are also a handy since you can take them before and after a night out.
Tip #2: Drink Green Tea
Green tea is very high in antioxidants that protect the liver from damage due to alcohol, while accelerating the metabolism of alcoholic compounds from the body.
The short-term effect is no hangover and the long-term benefit is less fat gain around the belly if you make the mistake of over-indulging regularly.
Use It: Guzzle green tea before and after imbibing—a pretty large dose (300-500 mg) appears best to reduce liver stress from alcohol. Opt for caffeinated tea since caffeine radically reduces the physical misery caused by a hangover.
Tip #3: Pound Water with Lemon or Lime
Part of the suffering caused by alcohol is a result of dehydration—the process of metabolizing alcohol results in the loss of water from the cells and from the bloodstream.
So, rehydrating is the first step, and adding lemon or lime to your water will further help the liver as it tries to keep up with the influx of toxins. A squirt of lemon or lime in the water will provide minerals and bioflavonoids, like hesperidin, which can improve elimination from the body.
Use It: The normal recommendation is to drink 0.6 to 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight. Feel free to bump that number up after enjoying alcohol. For further relief, take electrolytes, which can be depleted as the body becomes dehydrated from the alcohol.
Tip #4: Eat Asparagus, Green Veggies & Fruit
Asparagus and other sulfur-containing veggies will aid liver metabolism so that you are able to breakdown and remove dietary fat from the body.
Asparagus in particular has been shown to protect liver cells after alcohol use. It also provides nutrients that improve enzyme function, which will help alleviate the effects of a hangover.
Fruit may also be a good choice since most fruits are high in antioxidants, but relatively low glycemic, so they will raise blood sugar slightly, but won’t spike it.
Of interest, research consistently shows that consuming a large dose of fructose will significantly accelerate the metabolism of alcohol. The catch is you need to consume a lot of fructose (roughly 100 grams) and it’s unlikely anyone is going to willingly eat 6 to 8 apples when they’re hung over.
Eat foods that will stabilize blood sugar (protein, beneficial fat, and low glycemic foods such as green veggies and fruit). Opt for the most nutrient-packed plants: asparagus, broccoli, chard, cauliflower, collards, berries, and kiwi.
Tip #5: Train Hard
Sweating is one of three ways that alcohol can be eliminated from the body—the other two are from breathing and urination.
Studies show athletes eliminate toxins through sweat at a higher rate than sedentary people. Exercise elevates breathing rate and increases oxygen levels in the blood, which can speed metabolism and the clearance of alcohol and its metabolic byproducts.
Get your sweat on with a short moderate-intensity workout in the gym, outside, or on the track with the goal of raising heart rate, blood flow, and sweat rate.
Try intervals that decrease in distance (400, 300, 200, 100 meters for example) or time to reduce the mental challenge of enduring physical stress. Or do a rep-based circuit for time in the gym or with strongman equipment.
For a little extra motivation, drink a few cups of strong coffee pre-workout because caffeine is extremely effective for improving athletic performance and leading athletes to push themselves harder when they are tired or under the weather.