Thursday, August 1, 2013

Alcohol and Exercise: The Boozin' Blues.

I have a huge love/hate relationship with alcohol. But what do you do when you're 22, enjoy socializing and drinking but also want to stay in shape and continue running? It is quite literally my catch 22. As the years have passed, gone has my 18 year old indestructable self who could down a bottle of wine, have a few whiskeys in a bar and polish it all off with some shots at a shit club. The older I get and the more I want to maintain both my physical and mental health, the more I realise this sort of behaviour just isn't feasible, nor desirable. But life happens and so does drinking. 

Alcohol and exercise do not mix. Kinda like the new Tayto cheese and onion chocolate bar, christ. You don't have to be a scientist to know that alcohol has detrimental effects on the body, especially in relation to exercise. It limits your performance capacity, increases your risk of injury and decreases the amount of amino acids and glucose in your muscles which effects energy supply and the metabolic process during exercise. Not to mention it makes you fat. Alcohol supplies empty calories, meaning it has absolutely no nutritional value. It has almost the same amount of calories per gram as fat. The body cannot store alcohol so it is burned as fuel straight away and because of this all other metabolic processes such as the absorption of nutrients and fat burning are interrupted. I know I know, I must be so much fun at parties. When I drink I really enjoy it, I love being with my friends, having a laugh and meeting new people but in the past year or so I've realised that the undesirable effects that alcohol have on me and my exercise routine are sometimes simply not worth it. 

When I go on a bender, be it at the weekend or at a festival, or even midweek cos I have nothing better to be at, I feel the effects from anything from one day to a week. It's pretty miserable and I regret ever drinking so much in the first place. What I get so frustrated about is that I do it again anyway. This obviously has a huge impact on how much I exercise. The day after drinking is immediately ruled out so I can curl up in the foetal position, stuff burgers in my face, get flashbacks from the night before and wish I was never born. Most people might be feeling pretty normal the next day and would be able for a run or a gym session but usually I still feel pretty lousy and lacking energy which would mean I would skip any exercise for another day. That is 2-3 full potential exercise days lost forever that I could have used to better myself; run an extra kilometre, lift heavier or even simply plonk myself on a cross trainer for an hour. They say the key to staying fit and strong is consistency but this sort of feeble and highly counterproductive attempt at staying fit will simply not get me to my ultimate goal. So, what have I done about it?

Now I have to give myself some props, I have really cut back on drinking in the last year or so. I now regularly drive to the pub, have a few coffees and the craic and head home. When you realise that you can have just as much fun without alcohol, going out sober becomes a lot more enjoyable. It's also pretty liberating. We all depend on alcohol far too much as a social lubricant and when you start heading out and socializing sober it becomes easier every time. A lot of people say they could never go out without drinking, but in my opinion if you can't head out with your friends sober, then you should probably get better friends. The aforementioned "benders" are currently a very rare occurrence, happening maybe once a month. Before deciding to go out and drink I ask myself if me drinking alcohol will make me have a better time, or just make me think I'm having a better time. If it's the latter, I usually don't drink. Alcohol, in my opinion, should be used to enhance a situation, not create a situation. The hardest thing that I've been doing recently after I've been drinking is forcing myself to go to the gym the day after the hangover. Last week I was sat in my gym gear for 2 hours before I worked up the courage to head out the door. I'm not going to pretend that I felt better when I got to the gym because I didn't. I didn't feel particularly better during or after either if I'm being honest but knowing I actually went made me feel better and created the positivity that I needed to continue heading for the rest of the week.

As you can see, I'm not taking an oath of alcohol abstinence and I won't be becoming a teetotaller any time soon but I think it's important to be aware of how much we drink, and more importantly why we drink. If you're wondering why you can't budge that last stone or shave that minute off your best time, maybe it's time to look at your alcohol consumption. I can see now that my life without the habitual weekend binges is far more productive, I'm happier, healthier and my fitness has improved because of it. It's these small little changes that can make the world of difference with regards to your fitness goals. Your body is the result of the choices you make.

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