Those who have navigated Dry January with aplomb are probably counting down the days until their first tipple.
But is your regular drink doing more harm than you think?
We asked the experts to explain just how damaging alcohol is to everything from your skin and diet to your fitness training.
Alcohol and nutrition
‘Most of the alcohol we drink is absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach and small intestine,’ says Aliza Marogy, registered nutritionist and founder of supplement brand Inessa. ‘From the bloodstream, it’s transported to every organ, including the brain, kidneys, lungs and liver – the primary organ responsible for the clearance of alcohol from the body.
‘Consumed in excess, alcohol can result in nutrient depletion and decreases secretion of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas, that are required to extract nutrients from food. It can also lead to deficiency of nutrients and commonly depletes B-vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, zinc, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium helps maintain a healthy heart, brain, nervous system, bones, and regulates blood sugar.
‘It’s also a key electrolyte – as are calcium and potassium – required to balance blood pH, hydrate the body, and regulate nerve and muscle function. We need B-vitamins for energy, healthy cells, hormonal regulation and mental health, and zinc and vitamin C are essential antioxidants required for good immune function and healthy inflammatory responses, skin, bones and cartilage.
‘Research shows that just a few weeks off from alcohol can act as a reset, reducing the risk of insulin resistance, obesity, hypertension and cancer-related growth factors. Most people feel more energetic, focused and generally healthier after a month of abstinence.
‘And if you stay dry or cut back, you’ll reap benefits like improved sleep, increased vitality, better mental health and focus as well as a healthier gut.’
Alcohol and fitness
‘There are no long-term training studies comparing exercise training with/without concomitant alcohol intake at various levels,’ says Dr Thomas Allison, Director of the Sports Cardiology Clinic at Mayo Clinic.
‘However, alcohol is metabolised in the liver and reduces the liver’s ability to replenish the blood sugar during heavy exercise.
‘It also impairs gluconeogenesis – the process of converting non-carbohydrate substrates (such as lactate, amino acids, and glycerol) into glucose. This could have negative effects on energy metabolism during prolonged exercise.
‘What we do know is, low levels of alcohol consumption (less than would be considered high enough to produce illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) consistent with driving under the influence has a small adverse effect (about a four per cent reduction) in stationary cycling performance for 60 minutes, and a more marked reduction in performance of treadmill running for 60 minutes.
‘The difference is attributed to the fact that treadmill running is a more complex motor activity requiring more coordination than stationary cycling. There’s also data showing that protein synthesis, after vigorous exercise, which included resistance training, is impaired by alcohol intake.’
Alcohol and your skin
‘Alcohol can have a detrimental effect on your skin,’ says Dr Kajal Babamiri, GP and Dermatology Specialist at CLNQ Medical and Aesthetic.
‘Alcohol is considered to be a diuretic as it makes you pee more, thus dehydrating your skin and ridding the body of essential nutrients.
‘The dehydrating effect can exacerbate dry skin and in turn cause pores, fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, alcohol will likely be full of calories and be paired with sugary drinks too, which can lead to puffiness, acne, readiness and blotchiness, and increase your chances of rosacea flare-ups, too.
‘As the liver works hard to process and break down alcohol, the skin steps in to help, thus causing the alcohol to perspire through the skin, as well as through your breath and urine.
‘Skin deficiencies can range from redness and acne to burst blood vessels and skin cancer. After a detox, you should see a significant improvement in your skin’s overall health with less swelling under the eyes and the benefits are tenfold when cutting back to retain glow and natural plumpness.’
A do and a don’t for training
Celebrity trainer Chris Wharton is the founder of Palm Rock Retreats. He has this advice when it comes to alcohol and training.
Do: Factor in the extra calories
‘The body treats alcohol as a toxin and, as such, it prioritises its metabolism over everything else,’ he says.
‘As a result, the metabolism of fats and carbs will drop to nearly zero in the presence of alcohol. Alcohol is also calorie dense (seven kcals per gram) and will significantly add to your daily calorie consumption, especially when we include the kcals from mixers. Given that it takes roughly one hour to metabolise one unit of alcohol, it would take around 12 hours to start burning fat again after last night’s bottle of wine.’
Don’t: Expect quick results
‘Alcohol inhibits muscle protein synthesis so it’s far from ideal for those looking to build muscle,’ says Chris.
‘When we exercise, our body is primarily fuelled by essential blood sugar produced by the liver when it releases glucose into the bloodstream. Regular alcohol consumption reduces the liver’s ability to produce these all important sugars.
‘It’s the equivalent of trying to drive a car with a faulty engine. If your training plan involves strength and/or endurance training, it’s important to manage your expectations. If you have a severe hangover, you may also be tempted to sweat it out, but the body needs time to heal, hydrate and recover.’
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