How Does Beer Consumption Affect Athletes?

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Beer and sports have long mingled under the same stadium roof, no matter the game. However, while a pint of suds comes as recommended for the fans sitting in the bleachers, how alcohol affects the men on the court is slightly less obvious. To help dispel some of the common myths that are constantly brewing about alcohol, we explore how moderate drinking (defined as three or fewer drinks a day) affects the health and performance of athletes. Surprisingly, booze is not all bad news.

 

Photo: _Tony_/Flickr/Creative Commons


The good: a beer a day can help your heart
Every beer you pop contains a considerable dose of beta glucan, a soluble fibre that helps decrease your chances of heart-related diseases. It lowers your levels of bad cholesterol and increases your levels of good cholesterol, while helping remove other toxins in your intestines. As a rule of thumb, the darker the beer, the more soluble fibre it contains. Oh, and a beer a day may help prevent blood clots.

The bad: beer lowers performance
Even in relative moderation, imbibing beer the night before a big game is not the best idea. The residual effects can cut your body off from resources it needs for peak performance, especially water and glucose, a simple sugar that your muscles burn for quick energy. It also decreases the amount of amino acids your body can absorb, cutting your energy supply. That said, maximal aerobic function is only slightly affected by moderate intake.

The good: beer’s great for recovery
Next time you get back from the gym, you may consider grabbing yourself a brewski. A study presented at the 2011 European Conference of Nutrition actually found that two or fewer cans (that is, up to 660 millilitres) of beer are an effective substitute for equal amounts of water when it comes to getting your body back on track. In addition to having plenty of water, beers are chock full of minerals and antioxidants. Most notably, they contain B vitamins that are known to combat inflammation that can arise after a particularly strenuous workout.

The bad: beer makes you clumsy
According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines on the effects of alcohol, psychomotor skills are adversely affected by alcohol consumption. While that may mean you’ll find it harder to put the ball through the hoop, it also translates into a higher risk of injury. In fact, the same study shows that athletes that drink as little as one alcoholic beverage a week suffer twice the risk of sports-related injury as non-drinkers. Admittedly, the college has not concluded exactly what mechanisms are responsible for the effect.

The good: beer keeps your bones strong
Technically, beer doesn’t make your bones grow stronger, but rather it is associated with higher bone density and helps prevent your bones from thinning. This means you can take harder hits longer into your career, not to mention enjoy healthier joints. However, be warned that drinking excessively will do exactly the opposite and deteriorate your bone density at a high rate.

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