Exercise, stress, recovery and alcohol...

Stress and Recovery

I had the opportunity to read a review of a blog discussing the role alcohol plays on recovery, especially when high intensity exercise is involved. Tiina Hoffman reviewed the blog of her colleague Satu Tuominen making highlights and adding some reflection and additional view points.

Tiina Hoffman summerized, "The basic premise of her blog is that training, especially high-intensity or high-volume training, naturally loads the body and puts special demands on recovery." 

All of us need sufficient recovery to effectively manage our day to day lives, the activities that include work, family, exercise and down time. This topic becomes more relevant to those interested in improving their fitness and performance. High level athletes, weekend warriors and general fitness enthusiasts will find recovery essential in maintaining lifestyle balance. 

Satu stated, ”If the goal is to improve fitness and performance, hard training must be matched with good recovery. Good recovery is ensured with sufficiently long sleep, high-quality nutrition – and avoiding extra stressors, such as stress, hurry, alcohol and drugs, stimulants, unhealthy food and mental / emotional strain.” 

Satu continues: "One of the most significant factors known to have a negative effect on our recovery is alcohol. While most athletes and fitness enthusiasts probably know that they should not train when hungover, they might not realize that partying can actually cancel out the benefits of already conducted or upcoming training sessions."

It has been demonstrated that alcohol can dramatically effect quality of sleep and recovery. In a study using the "Firstbeat" database, it was shown that only 2 units of alcohol reduced the amount of recovery during sleep and with increases in alcohol consumption negative effects continue to increase. Hoffman stated, "people who are interested in their well-being and fitness respect data and facts – and the sobering realization that optimal recovery and use of alcohol are rarely a good match, especially when a heavy fitness routine is part of the mix."

Consumption of alcohol will elevate heart rate, reduce REM sleep and reduce protein production, all essential to proper recovery and performance benefits. 

Although alcohol helps you to fall asleep, it increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, i.e. the body's stress response, during sleep. In addition, the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes recovery, is weakened. 

In addition to its effects on the autonomic nervous system, alcohol reduces the amount of REM sleep important to the brain and motor learning. Protein synthesis, which enables muscle growth, is also impaired by alcohol. Alcohol is therefore very ill-suited as a recovery drink after exercise. Regularly consuming 2-3 servings of alcohol in the evenings can repeatedly tax the amount of restorative sleep to the point that the body cannot recover properly. 

For a practical tip, Satu emphasizes that “if you feel like partying once in a while, you do not need to feel like it will ruin your fitness goals and gains. However, when you do that, it’s best to skip intensive training for a few days because recovering from the party takes some time and during that time, hard training is likely to do more harm than good.” 

Satu’s blog concludes with a reminder that "it is desirable to enjoy life from time to time, as long as you are aware of the consequences of your choices. A couple of glasses of wine, or a heavier party occasionally, might temporarily make your workouts less effective, but they are not going to prevent or hurt your fitness improvement in the long run, as long as you follow a well-balanced training plan and healthy lifestyle the rest of the time.” 

Dr. Brian Yodice-Chiropractor Dr. Brian Yodice Dr. Brian Yodice is the owner of Collaborative Chiropractic, a healthcare practice focused on influencing healthy lifestyles. Dr. Yodice, a chiropractor, lifelong athlete and coach brings his extensive knowledge and experience to the care he provides. Educating his patients on the implementation of exercise and lifestyle changes, he guides them through a transformation to performing as better athlete or individual living a healthy active lifestyle.

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