Most of us have had at least one hangover to remind us that our bodies don’t respond well to excessive amounts of alcohol. Even in moderation, alcohol impacts our bodies in ways that we don’t immediately notice – but that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye and ignore the effects. Our culture seems to have accepted that tobacco, sugar, and even fatty snacks, are dangerous. However, we all seem to be stuck with the idea that our bodies are magically protected from alcohol. It’s just too much fun to give up!
Now, in an ideal world, as a personal trainer of 22 years, I should be telling everyone NOT to drink at all! This was a stand I took as an eager newbie fresh from my training but quickly realised this was unrealistic for most and if I was going to have a positive impact on people I had to change my thinking. I had to educate people of the impact on their health but also to equip them with strategies to cope when out and about.
This time of year is always challenging and life is about living and enjoying so understanding your choices is important. The ones that will impact you the least. Afterall everything in moderation...right?
Before you go out for your next night of fun, consider this:
Alcohol weakens your immune system
Have you ever fallen ill right after a night of drinking? Chances are, it wasn’t a coincidence. Excessive drinking weakens your immune system for up to 24 hours after consumption. So if you are going to have a couple of drinks bear in mind you really need to eat well and do all the right things either side of the night out.
Drinking dehydrates you
In order to rid your body of the alcohol that you’ve consumed, your kidneys overproduce urine. To do this the body needs fluid and if you don’t drink enough water to replace what you’ve lost, your body will take it away from your organs. This is why you wake up with a headache!! You can become dehydrated and the severity of this depends on your level of hydration.
Dehydration is especially troublesome during exercise when your body is producing sweat to cool your body temperature. If there aren’t enough fluids available, the consequences could range from mild heat cramps to heat stroke, so this is why it is important to be aware of the signs your body is giving you when training after a big night. If you are working with a personal trainer make sure you inform them of your night out so they can modify the session if needed.
To compensate, I suggest alternating between water and alcohol at parties and gatherings. Switching it up reduces your risk of dehydration and spaces out your drinks.
Empty calories, sugar, carbs, OH MY!
In addition to behind-the-scenes consequences of alcohol consumption, weight gain is also a potential risk. This poses the question: if you’re still going to drink, what should you be ordering at the bar?
The assumption is that alcohol is full of sugar. This is correct but it is not all doom and gloom. There is some good news for those who like the occasional drink.
My rule of thumb is to choose wisely:
Wine contains minimal fructose which is a form of sugar because it is the fructose in the grapes that ferments to become alcohol leaving the wine low in sugar! Red wine is even lower than white and is the better option. The other great thing about red wine is that it makes you thirsty so you are more inclined to drink water in between! This helps with avoiding dehydration I spoke about earlier.
In contrast, champagne or sparkling unfortunately it does the same as wine but it retains a lot of the Fructose (sugar). I don’t know about you but I do love a wee champers every now and then….not now.
Beer is actually OK as it doesn’t contain fructose. The sugar it does, maltose, we metabolise fine. It is usually the food we consume with the beer that is the problem.
When you choose spirits go for dry spirits like vodka, gin and whiskey which are all low in fructose. In saying that I caution you to be aware of the mixers!! This is where most of us come undone. Only ever choose soda water or neat. Tonic water and mixers are full of sugar, about 8-10 teaspoons per tall glass. That is scary.
As for dessert wine (not sure why you would drink it anyway) stay away as it is loaded with sugar!!!
In conclusion, “healthy” is a very subjective term. There are ways to reduce the health risks of drinking, although the only way to completely prevent them is to abstain from drinking.
Happy Holidays and remember moderation and the right choices are the key to surviving the crazy holiday period.
Written by Kirsty Robbie - Founder of StudioForty6 and CHEK exercise coach.