Much is being said about the controversial party organized by the Slovenian basketball team at the Olympic Village in Tokyo after their victory against Argentina and in which alcohol, apparently, was very present. It is not the first time that something similar has happened. Although many people do not know it, the first athlete to test positive in an Olympic Games was due to alcohol. In Mexico 1968 the Swede Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall competed in the modern pentathlon, an event that combines fencing, swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting and cross country running. The Swedish team won the bronze medal, but the joy was short-lived as the controls detected 0.81 grams of alcohol per ml in Liljenwall’s blood. According to the Swedish athlete, his positive was the result of drinking a few beers at another ‘Olympic party’.
What effects does alcohol consumption have on athletes? We can summarize them in five:
One of the great problems of alcohol intake is dehydration that results from the elimination of fluids through urine and feces. Exercising dehydrated is very dangerous since sweating does not remove alcohol but water and electrolytes. After ingesting alcohol, there is a greater probability of suffering a muscle injury due to the decrease in the amount of sugar in the blood and also the transport of oxygen to the tissues.
Have you ever noticed that a drunk person has trouble walking or thinking clearly? It is because alcohol intake produces loss of strength and decreased coordination due to its negative effects on neuromuscular function. By crossing the blood-brain barrier, alcohol interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain, enhancing incoordination, a key factor in the performance of an athlete.
After drinking alcohol, the risk of heart attack increases as there is an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This factor is even more potent in elite athletes due to the great effort they put on their hearts.
Playing sports after drinking alcohol is not a good idea if we want to have good digestive health. To increase their athletic performance, athletes divert some of the blood normally used by their gastrointestinal tract to their muscles and heart. In case of having drunk alcohol in the hours before practicing sports, not only does this ‘plus’ of blood not reach the muscles and hearts of the athletes, but the digestive system can suffer serious consequences.
Let’s see now which beverages are recommended for athletes according to the European Food Safety Authority and whose three main objectives are: I) water replacement to avoid dehydration; II) electrolyte replacement; III) the contribution of carbohydrates.
Thanks to the consumption of these drinks, the athlete can recover from some of the negative effects of alcohol intake (loss of water and electrolytes mainly) and, above all, these drinks help to maintain the level of resistance in exercises that require a long time running and prevent fatigue.
What are the characteristics that they must meet? There they go.
Energy: not less than 80 kcal and not more than 350 kcal per liter. At least 75% of the calories will come from carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (glucose, sucrose, maltodextrins).
Carbohydrates: no more than 90 grams per liter.
Sodium: Not less than 460 mg of sodium per liter (46 mg per 100 ml / 20 mmol / L) and not more than 1150 mg of sodium per liter (115 mg per 100 ml / 50 mmol / L).
Osmolality: between 200 and 330 mOsm / kg of water, being isotonic those between 270 and 330 mOsm.
Dear readers, alcohol consumption, even moderately, is associated with eight different types of cancers. As you can imagine, it is not a good travel companion for athletes or for anyone.