Athletes are competitive. Unfortunately, too many competitive athletes are also competitive drinkers, not to be outdone by their teammates. Excessive alcohol intake is associated with injuries, poor grades in school, arguments, sexual abuse, loss of memory, driving under the influence, and trouble with the law—to say nothing of vomiting, hangovers and poor athletic performance.
What can be done about this problem?
To address alcohol abuse among student-athletes, many college campuses are educating students about social norms—the beliefs about what is normal and expected in social situations. For example, despite popular belief, everyone does not drink nor do most students get drunk all the time.
A survey at Southern Methodist University asked these questions to students on a Friday about alcohol use on the previous night:
Did you drink last night?
Did you get drunk last night?
What percentage of SMU students do you think drank last night?
What percentage of SMU students do you think got drunk last night?
The answers showed major misperceptions about alcohol norms:
-Only 20% of students surveyed reported drinking the previous night, yet they believed that over half drank.
-Only 8% reported getting drunk, yet they believed at least one-third got drunk.
-Of students who drank, most reported consuming only a few drinks per week. Yet they believed most students were drinking 10 to 15 drinks per week.
-35% reported abstaining from alcohol, but very few believed that many of their peers were non-drinkers.
Minimizing negative consequences
If alcohol has a big role in your sports diet, take note:
- Alcohol is a depressant. Apart from killing pain, it offers no performance edge. You can’t be sharp, quick, and drunk.
- Alcohol has a diuretic effect; the more you drink, the more fluids you lose.
- Alcohol stimulates the appetite. People who drink moderately tend to consume alcohol calories on top of their regular caloric intake.
- Your liver breaks down alcohol at a fixed rate: about one can of beer or 4 ounces of wine per hour. Exercise does not hasten the process, nor does coffee. Caffeine just makes you a wide-awake drunk.
- Alcohol is a poor source of carbohydrates. Eat pretzels, thick-crust pizza or other carbs along with the beer.
- Alcohol on an empty stomach quickly leads to a drunken stupor. Maybe you could enjoy the natural high of exercise instead of getting brought down by a few post-exercise beers?
- The best hangover remedy is to not drink excessively in the first place. But if you have a hangover, drink a salted fluid with carbs, such as a sports drink or chicken noodle soup.
Is there any good news about alcohol?
Yes! In moderation, alcohol can have health benefits. Red wine, for example, contains health-protective phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of heart disease.
The key word is moderation. Moderation means two drinks per day for men and one for women. To help enforce moderation, first quench your thirst with a non-alcoholic beverage, and then, if desired, choose the alcohol-laden option.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. For workshops, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.