This article focusses on two things we get asked a lot about, and everyone's favourite vices: Alcohol and Caffeine.
Most people already know that drinking isn’t the best thing for your health, but how bad is it? How does alcohol affect your ability to train and recover? If you are trying to lose weight and/or gain muscle, what impact does alcohol have? Here, we are going to try and give some short-form answers to these questions. We are not trying yo scare you into quitting alcohol. Instead, our goal is to give you some things to keep in mind about drinking regarding your nutrition, and give some guidelines for drinking in moderation.
Drinking, diet, and recovery
This is going to be some very bite-size science here, broadly generalized. Alcoholic beverages like wine, beer, and liquors contain ethanol, which is produced by the fermentation of carb-rich plants (like wheat, barley, potatoes, or grapes). Ethanol, while not an essential nutrient, does contain calories (7 calories a gram). That number does not account for all the calories in alcoholic beverages, just those that come directly from the booze. When you drink, the ethanol is absorbed by your GI tract, and your liver metabolizes (most of) it.
Because drinking demands a lot of work by your liver and digestive system, it can affect amino acid uptake and protein synthesis, and can also hinder your ability to utilize important nutrients like folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin A. Alcohol can also affect your hormones: chronic alcohol intake can elevate estrogen and lower testosterone levels. Alcohol, while a depressant that may help you fall asleep, reduces REM sleep (which is the good stuff). Vitamins, healthy hormone production, and sleep are all vital for making gains!
Last, if you are trying to change your diet and make better/different food choices, the fact that drinking lowers your inhibitions can hurt your progress. Getting drunk is not great for your recovery, and the behaviour that often accompanies binge drinking (staying up late and eating junk food) just compound the negative effect on your training.
“You can be healthy and drink alcohol, but alcohol isn’t healthy”
These wise words are from Anne-Marie Sawula, and they are very true. You have probably seen articles about the anti-oxidants in red wine, or other potential health benefits of drinking minimally (like having a glass of wine regularly with dinner). However, the quest in trying to find the “healthiest” alcoholic beverage is a bit of a waste of time, and is missing the forest for the trees. While alcohol consumption in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, you do not need alcohol to be healthy. If you are going to have a drink, drink what you like, and try to enjoy it!
What does moderation mean?
For women, up to seven “drinks” per week, with no more than three drinks on any single day.
For men, up to fourteen “drinks” per week, with no more than four drinks on any single day.
*1 drink= 12 oz of beer (at 5%), 5 oz of wine (at 12%), 1.5 oz of liquor (40%). A.K.A less than you think.
So should I stop drinking?
If you feel you need a drink to cope with stress, that it is a habit, or you are drinking because people around you don’t want to drink alone, that may be a sign that you should cut back. But if having a glass of wine with dinner or a pint with friends gives you pleasure or helps you relax, by all means, go for it!
If you have more questions about alcohol and diet- here is detailed article from Precision Nutrition: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-alcoholic-beverages
Caffeine is a drug, but is it bad for you? How does it affect your sleep and athletic performance? Read on to learn some of the basics of caffeine as it relates to training and nutrition.
Caffeine is the most popular drug in the world. It is a stimulant for your automatic nervous system, and also blocks the action of adenosine, thus preventing the onset of drowsiness.
Caffeine is found naturally in over 60 plants- we consume most of it from tea, coffee, and chocolate. Coffee is most people’s biggest source of caffeine. A 5oz cup of coffee contains approximately 100mg of caffeine- but to put in maybe easier-to-understand terms- a Starbucks Tall (12oz) Blonde Roast is about 270mg of caffeine.
Caffeine enhances your alertness and awareness by reducing fatigue. Most of us are familiar with these benefits for work and productivity, but they can also help your athletic performance. For that reason, caffeine is often found in pre-workout supplementation. To learn more about supplements, check out our intro to supplements here.
- It can affect your digestion (for example, needing to pee all the time)
- You can build up a tolerance, and become mildly drug dependent. Some withdrawal symptoms include sleepiness, headache and general grumpiness.
- It can affect your sleep. Those drowsiness processes that the caffeine blocks exist for a reason, your body wants to sleep. If you consistently have trouble sleeping at night, cutting back or eliminating caffeine can be a good first step.
- More that 400mg of caffeine per day can cause anxiety and irritability
- While coffee doesn’t directly dehydrate you, if you are drinking coffee all day it may prevent you from drinking water as wellIf you take milk, cream, or sugar in your coffee, you may be mindlessly consuming calories.
How to use CAFFEINE safely and effectively
3-5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight can provide a performance effect without health risks. At 3 mg/kg, an 80 kg person would need 240 mg of caffeine.
*These effects will not be felt if you have built up a tolerance to caffeine.
Tips on cutting back
If you are reading the negative side effects and thinking: “That’s me!” Or if you take pre-workout and feel nothing, here are some tips on cutting back on caffeine:
- Figure out how much caffeine you are realistically consuming a day. You may also be getting caffeine from a pre-workout supplement as well as tea and coffee, so if you do take pre-workout, check the label to make sure you are not consuming way more caffeine than you think.
- Going cold turkey usually doesn’t work. Cut back gradually. If you usually have 3 cups a day, start by going to 2, then 1.
- Try alternatives. Part of why people drink so much coffee is the habit and pleasure of sipping on something hot. Decaffeinated coffee still has caffeine in it, but less. You can also try naturally caffeine free teas, hot water with lemon, or just water.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep! If you are dependent on caffeine, cutting back will suck, and you will feel tired. Getting enough sleep in this period is important.