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How Alcohol Affects Athletes

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

By Matt Chamberlain with a special contribution from Gary Kobat. Gary Kobat is an Integrative Performance Coach to many of the world's best. Visit

Every year, millions of gallons of alcohol is consumed by humans. The personal number may vary from person to person, however the effect that alcohol has on the human body is consistent. Athletes are at a much higher risk for injury than non active persons because of the high risk of dehydration and fatigue during their desired activity. For fit persons or athletes, the alcohol can create a stalemate in muscle growth and muscle regeneration. For a non fit or inactive person, muscle fibers may distort, also increasing the risk of injury. The addition of alcohol may also lead to hormonal imbalances that occur within the body that can affect muscles as well as the certain nutrients are needed in a diet to ensure a muscles health. The addition of alcohol will inhibit these nutrients and proceed to be detrimental to the muscle.

Gary Kobat, Integrative Performance Coach says, "The difference between hitting a curve ball in College or in the Pro's, stealing second base, catching a Home Run from over the fence, hitting a field goal or hitting the Goal posts, getting to and returning a corner serve in tennis, blocking that last second shot in middle of March Madness, qualifying for Team USA, getting that full-ride scholarship, or signing our first Pro Deal - even our ability to catch the local train or a long distance flight, to running a red light or yielding in a crosswalk - could very well come down to and be the difference of our choice to drink alcohol or not to drink alcohol when our life, our future, and what we've worked hard for and are most passionate about is on the line, " Kobat adds, "Every second, every breath, every inch counts. Value yourself. Value your moments. And the Possibilities will be Infinite.”


Overall, adding alcohol consumption into a lifestyle can attribute to a plethora of problems, and may cause problems that cause death of severe long term damage.

It is generally known, that after a night of going out with friends, or partying at your local pub, you may wake up dehydrated, with dry mouth, a headache and mild nausea. After a couple glasses of water, some food, and a Pedialyte, you start to feel better. But what really happens inside of your body? More specifically, what happens to your muscles when they are exposed to the ethanol that is consumed and put into the blood stream. Generally, dehydration is known to have a relationship with muscle injury. In an athletic community, these conditions may have a negative impact on both exercise performance and cognition when compared to a dictated drinking condition [Constant Hydration] (1). The actual damage done to cells is far beyond just a normal dehydration reaction and can have longer effects if not cured. Muscular atrophy, Rnhabdomylosis, and delayed muscle regeneration are all examples of negative side effects from the consumption of alcohol.

Glycolysis is also vital in transporting amino acids in muscle cells when they are damaged. For example, ethanol ingestion affects many aspects of metabolism as it impairs hepatic gluconeogenesis and subsequent glucose output and storage, directly impacting the glycolysis process. It is also well documented that glucose availability is used to fuel muscle protein synthesis during recovery from exercise. These conditions highlight how ethanol ingestion could have negative consequences for muscle metabolism (2).

Chronic alcohol consumption leads to problems in the regeneration process. Main affected muscle fibres are type II, especially type IIx . It is known that type IIx fibers are those more responsive to hypertrophy. A decrease in basal protein synthesis by 15% to 20% was observed in skeletal muscle after 24 hr of ethanol intoxication (3). Muscles that are injured at an acute or chronic level are not performing the necessary regeneration steps needed to progress in an injury cycle because of alcohol consumption. The inability to regenerate muscles reduced the amount of muscle growth and degrades accordingly. Other proteins may be affected as well.

The loss of mTOR function, which is directly impacted by alcohol intake, will cause muscles to not grow, heal, survive and synthesize protein. When muscles are introduced to alcohol, protein translation changes drastically. The reduction of the signaling protein mTOR reduced the protein synthesis in the muscle cells which caused the muscles to not repair as quickly. The lack of protein synthesis caused muscle regeneration to slow down significantly.

Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition due to muscle injury. The death of muscle fibers causes the release of their contents into the blood stream. This can cause renal failure meaning the kidney cannot remove waste and concentrated urine. In some cases, rhabdomyolysis can even cause death. Knowing that alcohol can cause muscle necrosis, it is pretty certain that alcohol use could possibly cause rhabdomyolysis. Although these conditions are caused in mal-nutrient subjects, alcohol does show to be a substituent of the condition. When an experiment using rats had been exposed to alcohol continuously for 3 weeks were food deprived for 1-3 days while alcohol was administered, serum CPK rose sharply (4). Serum CPK which stands of Serum Creatine Phosphokinase, has been measured in patients that have undergone rhabdomyolysis. Serum CPK allows cells that consume ATP rapidly, to use this as an energy reservoir. Although rare, this condition may be caused by the addition of alcohol and has been shown to have an increased rate if the patient is malnourished. Think wisely the next time you do not eat before going on a night out with your friends.

Hormones are chemical messengers that control and coordinate the functions of all tissues and organs (5). Generally post activity, testosterone levels will rise to acclimate for an increase in muscle activity. These hormones are associated with the creating of muscle fibers that allow muscles to regenerate and can increase muscle hypertrophy. Moderate doses of ethanol (0.83 g/kg) in resistance trained men when consumed immediately after exercise (where nothing was eaten 3.5 hours before, food given during drinking ab libitum) failed to note any significant differences in testosterone levels for up to 300 minutes after exercise. Another sport related study using 1 g/kg after a simulated rugby match failed to note a decrease in testosterone despite noting a reduction in power output (6).

Alcohol has enormous amount of effects on how muscles perform and how they regenerate as well as a deeper outlook on chemical mechanisms within the muscle cells. When alcohol is consumed, glucose consumption that aids in muscle metabolism is reduced, muscle regeneration is slowed, there are extensive nutrient deficiencies, a primary signaling protein mTOR which aids in muscle regeneration is inhibited, there are hormonal lags within the body that do not help muscle hypertrophy and protein synthesis and resulting muscle hypertrophy appears to be directly. If a muscle cannot create what is necessary to continue through muscle hypertrophy, or rather regenerate destroyed fibers, than neutrophils and macrophages will travel to the muscle and clear out cells that were not regenerated, thus leading to lack of strength and muscle atrophy and in severe cases rhabdomyolysis.

Next time you have the choice to go binge drinking with your friends, maybe be a little more aware of what you are putting into your body, and what it actually does to you.

About Matt Chamberlain:

Matthew Chamberlain is a college student-athlete at the University of New Haven studying nutrition and dietetics. He is a member of the student-athlete advisory committee (SAAC) and volunteers his time not only helping the University of New Haven but also for the city of New Haven. From bringing the students and athletes on campus closer together to feeding the homeless in downtown New Haven, everyday is a new day to help someone. His goals fall nothing short of learning something new everyday, helping others, and changing the world for the better.

Works Cited

1) Backes TP, Fitzgerald K. Fluid consumption, exercise, and cognitive performance. Biol Sport. 2016;33(3):291-296. Doi:10.5604/20831862.1208485.

2) Bianco A, Thomas E, Pomara F, et al. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):26. Doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-26.

3) Hong-Brown LQ, Frost RA, Lang CH: Alcohol impairs protein synthesis and degradation in cultured skeletal muscle cells. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2001, 25: 1373-1382

4) Alcoholic Rhabdomyolysis : An Experimental Model in the Rat Author ( s ): Ronald G . Haller and Daniel B . Drachman Published by : American Association for the Advancement of Science Stable

5) Pelosio C: Definition of hormones. Policlinico Prat. 1954, 61: 1332-1333

6) Bianco A, Thomas E, Pomara F, et al. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):26. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-26.

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