Alcohol has long been a discussion topic in the martial arts. After all, the adult beverage is a staple in many of the countries and cultures in which the arts were born.
Ethanol–the form of alcohol we drink–is the intoxicating ingredient of beer, wine, rice wine (sake) and hard liquor. In modern society, moderate consumption is defined as a woman having one drink a day or a man having one or two a day. For either gender, the body absorbs the alcohol more quickly than it does food. Why do we imbibe? Because drinking dulls our senses and subdues our higher cognitive functions.
NUMEROUS SIDE EFFECTS are associated with drinking, and they last much longer than the buzz–which is why most athletes, including competitive martial artists and fighters, abstain while training for big events. First, muscle tissue doesn’t grow as well in the presence of alcohol. In males, specifically, it inhibits testosterone production.
For men and women, drinking is not recommended during post-exercise recovery. Your body views alcohol as a toxin, which is why your liver labors to process it. That means fewer internal resources are available for tissue repair–recall that exercise breaks down muscle tissue so it can grow back stronger. With alcohol in your system, you won’t realize maximum benefit from your workouts, and you’re more susceptible to injury in future workouts.
Another drawback involves calories. Alcohol is a source of “empty calories,” which means it has virtually no nutritional value. If you need to lose weight or hit a certain number at a weigh-in, that could spell trouble.
IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK, it pays to consider the timing. After a night of boozing, you’ll have less energy and strength the next day, not to mention a greater potential for dehydration. That combination makes you more likely to suffer an injury in a hard workout, so plan accordingly–especially if you’re going to be slinging weights or weapons around.
If you elect to drink after you train, you can expect different side effects, depending on the type of athlete you are. Marathon runners and triathletes sometimes down a beer after a long training session. Why? Because it’s full of recovery nutrients like magnesium, potassium and calcium. At the end of major races, you often see beer tables. Before you sidle up to the bar for a cold one, know that unless you’re an endurance athlete who’s run hard for more than 90 minutes, beer is not the ideal recovery tool. After a moderate workout, a brew will suppress fat burning and possibly increase your craving for sweets.
IF YOU’RE SERIOUS about your martial arts but still want to drink socially, you should devote some thought to what goes down the hatch. Wine is the healthiest option, with red wine being less sugary than white. Red wine, in moderation, is termed “heart healthy” because the antioxidants it contains may help prevent heart disease and increase the levels of good cholesterol.
Sake and hard liquor (vodka, rum, gin, tequila, etc.) may not be as healthy as wine, but they’re better than imbibing sugar-laced cocktails. If you want to spruce up your alcohol before sipping, use club soda, which doesn’t contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
My final bit of advice: Strive for moderation in all things. Overindulgence in alcohol has been linked to increased risk of weight gain, cancer, liver disease and other health issues. On the other hand, having a drink or two on your day off is not a big deal–especially if you’re a noncompetitive martial artist who has an occasional glass of wine to reduce stress.