The last couple weeks of December seemed like a two week bender of bad food, family and friends that were both fun and annoying at the same time, and lots of alcohol. I certainly like a cocktail or glass of wine (or an occasional beer, though I’ve found beer doesn’t sit that well with me as it used to), and usually more than one. If I have one thing in my diet that isn’t very tight it’s alcohol. I do my best to limit my alcoholic calories and for the last half of year, the cocktail of choice has been the “California Margarita” that Robb Wolf described in his The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet: basically just consists of tequila (we found Costco’s blanco an adequate choice at about $20 for a 1.75), a splash of lime and club soda or plain water. With my on-going workouts and lifting I’m not even close to “fat”, but always seem to have about 5 lbs I’d like to lose, and these empty calories aren’t doing me any favors.
To counteract, at least temporarily, the fat and badness of drinking, I take a couple of one-month sabbaticals from drinking throughout the year. After all the badness that is the holidays, I find resetting my body in January a good thing. Plus this year, we have a Crossfit competition in February, so I want to be as healthy and light (and strong) as possible for that. So both Holly and I are abstaining from drinking this month, which isn’t that hard really. There are certainly still social pressures (January holiday parties, after work happy hours, etc.) but those are relatively easy to say no to. My father, an alcoholic but sober for 20 years or so, always simply drinks water or soda. I may try club soda with a lime or something. It’s not that different for us than not eating cake or donuts or something since those things aren’t in our diet wheelhouse.
So why is alcohol bad for us?
- First, at seven calories a gram, it’s like rocket fuel for our bodies, and gets preferentially used for fuel over all other sources. That means that with food, the fats and carbs and proteins get put on the back shelf, and if there is excess calories (from food or alcohol) get turned into fat. Since there’s more calories in the system, this is often the case.
- Alcohol is often linked to depression. I know that even if I don’t wake up with a hangover per se, when I drink, I don’t feel right in the head. While some people think people drink (to self medicate) when they’re depressed, a large study from New Zealand showed that it was probably the other way around — that is, heavy drinking led to depression.
- It contributes to dehydration. As an athlete, this diuretic impacts electrolyte balance and puts me at a greater risk for musculoskeletal injuries including: cramps, muscle pulls, and muscle strains.
- Drinking alcohol also impacts testosterone. serum testosterone levels. Decreases in testosterone are associated with decreases in aggression, lean muscle mass, muscle recovery and overall athletic performance, not something I want. I want to be lean, mean and a tiger in the sack…rarr!
- From UC San Diego Athletics Performance :Alcohol seems to accelerate falling asleep, at least in subjects who do not tend to fall asleep immediately. The negative effects arise later and affect the quality and duration of sleep. Sleep is a complex phenomenon in which there are alternating phases of deep sleep, called paradoxical or REM sleep during which the subject dreams, and slow wave sleep. Undisturbed progression of these two phases of sleep is essential for an individual’s well being. Alcohol disturbs or interrupts the sequence of paradoxical sleep and light sleep. Thus alcoholics and some people who have stopped drinking complain about disturbed and fragmented sleep, frightening dreams and insomnia.The disruptive effects of alcohol last well into the night, even when alcohol has been eliminated. This is not a phenomenon specific to alcohol, it is seen with other sedative products. Snoring is abnormally frequent after taking alcoholic drinks in the evening before going to bed [AMD Note: I snore frequently under normal circumstances and this is definitely exacerbated while drinking, much to mine and Holly's chagrin]. This is due to the relaxing effects of alcohol on the pharyngeal muscles.
- Long term use has lots of other diseases associated with it including cirrhosis, cancer and heart disease.
I always feel better when I tighten up my diet and eliminate or reduce my drinking. Plus after a few days (new habit), it’s not missed at all.