Athletes drink. A survey that followed 6,000 teens into their mid-twenties found that while young athletes use fewer drugs than non-athletes, they drink far more alcohol.
Fitness buffs, why is this so dumb?
In addition to the obvious short-term health risks — like drunk driving — alcohol impairs muscle growth and prevents muscle recovery. In fact, according to research conducted by Matt Barnes of New Zealand’s Massey University, muscle performance loss was doubled in participants who drank alcohol.
That wouldn’t be a huge deal for a non-exerciser, but it could be a game-ender for an athlete whose future relies on physical fitness.
Alcohol consumption hinders recovery.
Barnes concludes that, “if you drink even moderate levels of alcohol after you use your muscles strenuously you are impairing your ability to recover and I would say if you are serious about your sport, you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol in the post-match or recovery period.”
In the context of this study, participants were given 6-7 drinks over 2-3 hours, an amount considered to be on the extreme high end of safe drinking for men of their size based on blood alcohol concentration (BAC) calculations. This drinking binge took place directly after a moderate resistance training workout. Their muscle performance was then measured two and three mornings later.
That is to say, three days after the workout and inebriation, the alcohol was still affecting their athletic performance. Damn.
Why is it that throughout the ages, young athletes have proven to be so susceptible to alcohol use and abuse?
It’s obviously a social issue — team sports and drinking have a sordid history — but to blame “sports” doesn’t quite work. Young sports lovers have gone on to innovate in nearly every area of sporting. They’re behind all sorts of game-changing creations: from performance enhancing supplements, to in-game instant replay, to the modern selfie ticket. The overall culture of sport and athleticism is not the problem — education is.
Young athletes need to be made aware of all the disadvantages that come along with alcohol consumption. Not only will a night of drinking give them a hangover, but it’ll hinder their ability to be a high-level competitor.
Darren Mays, a researcher at Georgetown Medical Center who has studied alcohol use in adolescent athletes speculates that “their competitive spirit on the athletic field may translate over into drinking behaviors.”
In that case, simply reframing the nature of one’s relationship to competition could help deter him or her from drinking.
Set priorities based on what’s really important.
Instead of supporting drinking culture and encouraging athletes to be competitive in every aspect of life, they can be better served by learning to prioritize their health as the single most important aspect of competitive success.
Even if a young athlete’s friends can out-drink him, if he lays off the alcohol he can take comfort in the fact that he is better primed to out-lift, out-run, and out-score them all.
Being Swole is all about strength, size, endurance, agility, flexibility, performance, and confidence. It’s taking care of your body and mind. The younger that every man and woman learns that, the better off they’ll be — in competition and in life.