Issues involving alcohol and sport are continually making the headlines, and this presents an opportunity to discuss the effects alcohol can have on athletes. A study by O’Brien (2000) reported that alcohol is the most common drug used among the athletic population and over the past decade there have been many instances of high profile athletes who have had serious problems with alcohol.
Alcohol has significant potential to adversely affect both the health and welfare of the athlete. The average daily alcohol intake of team sport athletes are significantly higher than those of athletes involved in endurance or individual sport (Watten, 1995). It has been suggested that alcohol related problems are more prevalent in the athletic population due to their risk taking mentality and age profile. Team sports traditionally have an increased percentage of athletes who consume alcohol regularly. These athletes can be at a greater risk of alcohol related problems, as the opportunity to drink is often present in the club house environment and social commitments.
Alcohol consumption appears to have a causative effect in sports related injuries, with an injury incidence rate of 54.8% in drinkers compared to 23.5% in non-drinkers (O’Brien, 2000). This has been associated with the hangover effect from alcohol consumption, which has been shown to decrease athletic performance by 11.4%. Two areas of concern for athletes and alcohol involve recovery and performance.
In respect to recovery, a study by Murphy et al. (2013), reported a reduction in skeletal muscle force after alcohol ingestion over the first 36 hours is likely to result in delayed recovery of performance. Even though many athletes refrain from drinking the day before and immediately prior to exercise on competition day, they will consume alcohol the night after competition and in many instances are required to attend training and recovery sessions the following morning. This would result in detrimental effects on recovery sessions the day after competition. Hydration is an important aspect in the recovery process, and alcohol negatively affects the hydration process, as well as having negative effect on post-match recovery resulting in decreases in muscle performance and cognition. Alcohol interferes with the athlete’s ability to replenish carbohydrate levels sufficiently to aid recovery, so if after match obligations are required, pre-function carbohydrate intake can assist.
In relation to the performance aspect of alcohol consumption, it does seem that alcohol consumption may have a negative effect on post exercise skeletal force production. Alcohol consumption has been reported to disrupt task performance through reduced reaction time, concentration, and memory loss (Gratten-Miscio et al, 2005). Taking into account these issues with the reduction in cognitive function, decision making and reaction times, it would be reasonable to assume this would adversely affect the development of the athlete at skill based training sessions. This reduction in decision making speed and the quality of responses to visual stimuli will prove detrimental to athlete training progression, and subsequent training performance.
It is obvious that the effects of alcohol can influence sporting performance in a number of ways, and understanding these issues will assist you in making informed decisions for yourself, allowing you to perform, develop and enjoy your sport.