The Science Behind Alcohol Consumption and its Relation to Fitness

Understanding Alcohol's Impact on Metabolism, Neurotransmitters, and Hydration

What happens when we consume alcohol? Let's break it down. After you take your first shot, your body uses the Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH) pathway to convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, and then into acetate. These by-products increase oxidation, especially in the liver, potentially damaging cell structures. Because your body sees these by-products as dangerous, it wants to get them out of the body as fast as possible.

To quickly eliminate these harmful by-products, your body disrupts normal metabolism, reducing fat and carbohydrate processing. Consequently, sugars and fats consumed with alcohol are more likely to be stored as fat. Your liver will assist in processing these toxins through the increased use of certain vitamins, such as the water soluble vitamins of B1, B3, B6, folate, and C, as well as the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K. Chronic consumption can deplete these vitamins, leading to reduced motivation, energy, and well-being.

After your first couple of drinks, alcohol increases GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This is why alcohol is known as a depressant. With repeated exposure, GABA receptors get accustomed to alcohol, requiring more to achieve the same effect. GABA is also crucial for sleep, so using it up while awake means less available during sleep, causing restlessness.

Alcohol also affects the higher processing areas of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, while leaving the lower areas of the brain relatively unaffected. This is the reason you feel more emotional or confident than you normally would be. If you have experienced yourself doing or saying things you would never think to do sober, then you have experienced the inhibitory power “liquid courage” can create by taking your cerebral cortex out of the equation.

As we have learned, your body doesn’t like the presence of alcohol. It is recognized as dangerous, therefore preferentially metabolized by the body, and excreted with the suppression of Vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone. Alcohol inhibits vasopressin, increasing urine production and leading to dehydration, as the kidneys expel water and minerals instead of reabsorbing them. This dehydration contributes to hangovers.

Since your kidneys are working overtime flushing your system, your body is unable to reabsorb water and all the precious minerals and electrolytes that are contained within it. This lack of minerals and electrolytes is the main culprit for your “hangover” the next day.

Understanding how alcohol impacts you body can help you make more informed choices about how and when to consume it. While there may not be any physiological benefits that aren't transient, alcohol has played a crucial role in social and familial bonding for millennia. It has become an undeniable staple of our culture, and when enjoyed responsibly, it should not derail your health and fitness goals. By being mindful of its effects and moderating your intake, you can balance enjoying social occasions with maintaining your overall well-being.

Speak with your Thesis personal trainer and nutrition coach about your alcohol consumption so they can properly factor it into your personalized fitness plan. And if you do plan on drinking this summer, check out some of the low-cal summer cocktails curated by one of our skilled personal trainers.