Category Archives: alcohol

CrossFit, The Paleo Diet, Alcohol and Vodka

CrossFit, Paleo Diet, alcohol and athletes.

Main points:

  1. alcohol slows recovery from training and exercise
  2. alcohol increases decline in muscle performance
  3. alcohol impairs nerve response to training and exercise.

About alcohol and athletes and the paleolthic diet (the paleo diet): a lot of athletes follow it.   Especially CrossFit athletes.  And I’ve been hearing a lot about alcohol in the CrossFit community.  Questions floating around have been:  Is Vodka the best drink for people following a paleo diet?  And Is Vodka best for CrossFit?  I’m not sure why these questions are coming up so often.  I would attribute it to geekery.  People with geeky tendencies spend a lot of energy tweeking and micro-adjusting.  You can see this a lot in the Paleo diet community and among CrossFit people as well.  This tendency seems to come with the drive for perfection.

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I was asked an interesting question by a teenager who has cut milk and juice out of his diet because they are “unhealthy”.  He follows the paleo diet.  You don’t need juice or milk to have a healthy diet.  But the question was not about that.  The young person asked if he should drink Vodka because he had read that it was “the healthiest drink.”

Is drinking alcohol good for athletes?

That was funny.  You might think “good try bud.”  But it wasn’t all funny because he is sincere in wanting to be healthy.  And sincere in following the paleo diet.  I mentioned the story to an adult friend who is also follows the paleo diet and received “funny” and authoritative response.  “That is actually true.”  Where is this idea about vodka coming from?  I thought “maybe Mark’s Daily Apple?”  But Mark is pretty good about outlining the good and the bad.  Alcohol can be quite dangerous when used recklessly.  It can also be dangerous when used in ignorance.  Are there other teens out there who think they should be downing vodka after weighlifting?  Other adults?  Is alcohol bad for athletes? Is alcohol Paleo?

A young boy rests between lifts at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.  This is not the kid who asked about Vodka

Looking at alcohol and athletics from current research: athletes should not drink alcohol after training.  Even moderate amounts slow recovery.  And even moderate mounts reduce strength (Barnes et al. 2010).  Alcohol also seems to impair activation of muscle contraction. (Barnes et al. 2012).  For a current (2010) review of what’s known and what still needs work the Vella paper is a good place to start.  You can read it free here.

Research so far, and a lot of anecdotal evidence, indicates that alcohol (ethanol) is not good for athletic performance.  And that alcohol is not good strength gain.  Feel free and comfortable telling this to any teens who ask about alcohol and health.  Or about alcohol and athletes.  As for the “is alcohol paleo?” question one could think about evolution and selective pressure.

Is Alcohol Paleo?

Since the Paleo Diet is an attempt to follow a pre-agricultural diet we’ll have to use our imaginations to answer that question.  Were paleolithic people (or monkeys or australopithecus) who drank alcohol more likely to reproduce and pass along their genes?  Let’s guess yes on reproduction.  Survival of offspring  . . . might depend on how drunk, how often.  Let’s guess the occasional handful of fermented berries would have given best odds.

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption and eccentric muscle damage on neuromuscular function. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (1), 63-71 PMID: 22185621

Vella LD, & Cameron-Smith D (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients, 2 (8), 781-9 PMID: 22254055 Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

CrossFit Paleo Alcohol and Vodka

Is alcohol good for athletes?  Is alcohol “Paleo”?

Is Alcohol Paleo?  Is Vodka the best drink for people following a paleo diet?  Is Vodka best for CrossFit?  I’m not sure why these questions are coming up so often.  I would attribute it to geekery.  People with geeky tendencies often try to tweek and adjust.  And you can see this a lot in the Paleo community and among CrossFit people as well.  I was asked an interesting question by a teenager who has cut milk and juice out of his diet because they are “unhealthy”.  You don’t need juice or milk to have a healthy diet.  But the question was not about that.  The young person asked if I could buy him Vodka because he had read that it was “the healthiest drink.”

Is drinking alcohol good for athletes?

That was funny.  You might think “good try bud.”  But it wasn’t all funny because I know he is sincere in wanting to be healthy.  I mentioned the story to an adult friend who is also very health conscious and received “funny” response.  “That’s actually true.”  Where is this coming from?  I thought “maybe Mark’s Daily Apple?”  But Mark is pretty good about outlining the good and the bad.  Alcohol can be quite dangerous when used recklessly.  It can also be dangerous when used in ignorance.  Are there other teens out there who think they should be downing vodka after weighlifting?  Other adults?  Is alcohol bad for athletes?

A young boy rests between lifts at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.  This is not the kid who asked about Vodka

Looking at current research: athletes should not drink alcohol after training.  Even moderate amounts slow recovery and reduce strength (Barnes et al. 2010).  Alcohol also seems to impair activation of muscle contraction (Barnes et al. 2012).  For a current (2010) review of what’s known and what still needs work the Vella paper is a good place to start.  You can read it free here.

Reseaerch so far, and a lot of anecdotal evidence supports, indicates that alcohol (ethanol) is not good for athletic performance or for strength gain.  Feel free and comfortable telling this to any teens who ask.

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption and eccentric muscle damage on neuromuscular function. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (1), 63-71 PMID: 22185621

Vella LD, & Cameron-Smith D (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients, 2 (8), 781-9 PMID: 22254055

Correlation and Causality: Alcohol and Diabetes to BPA and Estrogen Disruption

Alcohol and Diabetes:

From a purely health-oriented perspective, alcohol is one of those things where a little seems to be good and more than a little puts you at risk for a bad health outcome. One of the positive things small regular intake can do for you is protect you from diabetes. There is good epidemiological evidence that this is the case. Light drinkers are less likely to develop diabetes than those who abstain.

Samples prepared for analysis. 


As most people know, just because two things occur together does not mean that one caused the other. Correlation and causality are two different things. It is important to keep this in mind when reading about human health studies in the news. Epidemiology is a wonderful tool however, and provides clues to problems that might have gone unnoticed. In addition to identifying potential problems correlational (and epidemiological) studies are important in evaluating how a problem identified in the lab may be harming people in the real world. Are light drinkers more likely to eat better, exercise better, be healthier than those who drink more alcohol or even none at all?

An important next step is figuring out why the correlation exists.  Here is a case where epidemiology observed something (low alcohol = less diabetes, high alcohol = more diabetes) and experimental study identified a physiological reason that explains those observations.    He et al. (2007) discovered that light alcohol intake activates a biochemical pathway that has a positive influence on removal of blood sugar from the blood stream. Higher alcohol intake disrupts glucose management by activating an additional protein that blocks the positive effects seen with light alcohol intake.  This discovery helps explain why you can see two different outcomes with alcohol.  At first light it may have seemed that scientific studies conflicted each other.  The appearance of contradiction may lead some people to throw up their hands and decide to disregard health news or science in general.

Sometimes we need to keep working at the puzzle.

There may be a similar issue with environmental contaminants.  Sometimes a relationship is observed and someone publishes on it, and there there are a flurry of other studies that confirm or don’t confirm the relationship, expand it or limit it.  Identifying the mechanism and understanding how it works under varied circumstances becomes essential.  There are now many correlational studies that show that Bisphenol A (BPA) intake is associated with health problems.  There are also mechanistic studies that show how BPA interacts with estrogen receptors and causes things to go arwy.  One could stop here and take steps to remove BPA from use.  Environmentalists and children’s health advocates could claim victory.  This might result in fewer birth defects, less obesity, less diabetes, fewer behavioral problems in children etc.  But it might not.

Plastics are more complex than they seem.  Even without BPA many of the chemicals that go into or are released from different plastics may be may activate estrogen receptors.  Would people be exposed to less estrogenic chemicals if BPA is banned?  We still don’t know.  While many studies have used data on concentrations of BPA or BPA-metabolites, to the best of my knowledge no one has looked at total exposures to estrogenic chemicals originating from plastics.  (There are also estrogenic chemicals from sources other than plastics too).   Does removing BPA from a plastic actually make it less estrogenic?  Is BPA, rather than other chemicals coming off of plastics, the main source of dietary exposures to estrogenic compounds?

Plastics are amazing, really, and have made many positive and important contributions to our economy and quality of life.  For information on how plastics benefit the environment and contribute to quality of life take a look at this pdf from the British Plastics Federation.  Its taken tremendous effort and ingenuity to develop polymers.  We can figure out where they might cause problems in the environment or in human health by continuing polymer research and including within, cell and molecular studies.  We should not have to leave epidemiology to discover problems that could have been avoided after the fact. 

He L, Marecki JC, Serrero G, Simmen FA, Ronis MJ, & Badger TM (2007). Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on insulin signaling: partial explanation for biphasic alcohol impact on human health. Molecular endocrinology (Baltimore, Md.), 21 (10), 2541-50 PMID: 17622585

Nguyen KH, Lee JH, & Nyomba BL (2012). Ethanol causes endoplasmic reticulum stress and impairment of insulin secretion in pancreatic β-cells. Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), 46 (1), 89-99 PMID: 21840159

CrossFit and Paleo: Alcohol and Diabetes

From a purely health-oriented perspective, alcohol is one of those things where a little seems to be good and more than a little puts you at risk for a bad health outcome. One of the positive things small regular intake can do for you is protect you from diabetes. There is good epidemiological evidence that this is the case. Light drinkers are less likely to develop diabetes than those who abstain.

As most people know, just because two things occur together does not mean that one caused the other. Correlation and causality are two different things. It is important to keep this in mind when reading about human health studies in the news. Epidemiology is a wonderful tool however, and provides clues to problems that might have gone unnoticed. In addition to identifying potential problems correlational (and epidemiological) studies are important in evaluating how a problem identified in the lab may be harming people in the real world. Are light drinkers more likely to eat better, exercise better, be healthier than those who drink more alcohol or even none at all?

An important next step is figuring out why the correlation exists. A good explanation of what is going on was published by He et al. (2007) and was supported by their lab studies. Light alcohol intake activates a beneficial biochemical pathway. The end result is that the body is better able to synthesize glycogen, removing glucose from the bloodstream. Higher alcohol intake disrupts glucose metabolism by activating an additional protein that blocks the positive effects seen with light alcohol intake. This is a very simplified explanation, but you can think of it as someone suddenly pulling the emergency brake while driving. Doing that long term can inflict some serious damage. Stressing the system that controls your blood sugar over long periods of time can result in diabetes and other health problems.

I’ve had some questions about alcohol consumption and the paleo diet. Some people seem to hold that hard liquor is OK because it is low-carb and is not metabolized in the same manner as beer and wine. Its true that ethanol (alcohol) follows a different path than carbohydrates, but this does not mean it is a good path to follow. Alcohol has been shown to lower production of insulin, which some also favor in the belief that keeping insulin levels low is a goal in itself. Keeping insulin levels low when blood sugar is high is not a good thing to aim for. Its the sugar that is dangerous.

Joosten MM, Chiuve SE, Mukamal KJ, Hu FB, Hendriks HF, & Rimm EB (2011). Changes in alcohol consumption and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes in men. Diabetes, 60 (1), 74-9 PMID: 20876712

Ajani UA, Hennekens CH, Spelsberg A, & Manson JE (2000). Alcohol consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus among US male physicians. Archives of internal medicine, 160 (7), 1025-30 PMID: 10761969  

He L, Marecki JC, Serrero G, Simmen FA, Ronis MJ, & Badger TM (2007). Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on insulin signaling: partial explanation for biphasic alcohol impact on human health. Molecular endocrinology (Baltimore, Md.), 21 (10), 2541-50 PMID: 17622585

Nguyen KH, Lee JH, & Nyomba BL (2012). Ethanol causes endoplasmic reticulum stress and impairment of insulin secretion in pancreatic β-cells. Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), 46 (1), 89-99 PMID: 21840159

Should athletes abstain from drinking? Alcohol not water.

We were recently asked if drinking alcohol would have an effect on athletic performance and recovery. I know it sounds like this one would be obvious and part of it is. It’s reasonable to assume there is a statistically significant improbability of doing your best while drunk. You might do well by accident, but the odds are very, very stacked against that happening. But how about a beer after a WOD or workout, or a glass of wine with dinner? It looks like light drinkers perform as well as tea-totallers as long as enough time has gone by to get blood alcohol levels down (Barnes et al. 2011). Heavy drinkers should not expect to perform well while drunk or with a hangover.

Regional Athlete Kelly Poorter feeling not as well as he might have.

What about the effect of drinking on recovery? Will having a beer after a workout slow or interfere with recovery? It does not look like anyone has done a recent study of the effects of a little alcohol on recovery. However study of the effects of heavy intake (the equivalent of 5-6 drinks) has been made. (Barnes et al. 2012). You have to wonder though, what kind of people volunteer for that sort of study. Bets are on young men, not Masters athletes, but they are probably closer to us than rats, physiologically speaking. Maybe. The Barnes study provides evidence that a night of binge drinking will hurt performance for several days afterwards. If you are getting ready for the CrossFit Games 2012 or any athletic event that matters to you don’t get shit-faced drunk. Its not good for you anyway you look at it.

But it’s probably just fine to relax with a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day. At this stage of the game there are still a lot of unanswered question and no definitive answer for CrossFit competitors or elite athletes for whom everything matters. We know Masters Athlete Ken Cutrer (aka “The Godfather”) claims to drink large amounts of rum and olive oil, he may just be saying this to throw off competitors as he heads out for the 2012 CrossFit Games. Search for “Olive Oil” “Rum” and “Performance” and you will not find anything serious. Just an article about Cutrer. On the other hand, maybe he’s on to something.

Vella, Luke D. (2010-07-27) Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781-789. DOI: 10.3390/nu2080781

Barnes MJ, Mundel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption on recovery from a simulated rugby match. Journal of sports sciences, 30 (3), 295-304 PMID: 22168345

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2011). A low dose of alcohol does not impact skeletal muscle performance after exercise-induced muscle damage. European journal of applied physiology, 111 (4), 725-9 PMID: 20878178 ResearchBlogging.org