Category Archives: recovery

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

Do compression garments improve athletic performance?

CrossFit Seven South Central Team Member Lucas Allen

More and more athletes, whether elite or aspiring, seem to be using compression shorts, shirts, suits, tights or sleeves.  Do these things help?  Do they help in sports like CrossFit or Olympic Lifting?  There has been some research on compression garments of varying type.  Most of the research has focused either on people who have some form of circulatory impairment or on healthy young adults on stationary bicycles. A lot of tests of exercise physiology are done with cycling because its more practical for researchers to monitor people on a stationary bike than it is while they are running on a treadmill or doing something like CrossFit.  That would be a tough one. So . . . keep in mind that the studies discussed here may not apply to your sport.

Full Body Compression Suits: did not help exercise performance, cardiovascular function, temperature regulation or comfort (MacRae et al. 2012).   Cyclists were used as study subjects.  They were monitored during a one hour event, as well as during a 6km timed all out trial.

Compression Socks: several different strengths of compression socks were tested in male runners to see if there were any effects on heart rate, blood oxygen, lactate concentrations or red blood cell flexibility.    No differences were seen for different levels of compression.  High compression produced the same measures as low compression.  Why does red blood cell flexibility matter?  It matters because a flexible red blood cell is able to carry oxygen through capillaries and between cells better than a rigid one.  Flexible red blood cells help carry oxygen to the tissue that need them during exercise.  In trained athletes exercise makes red blood cells more flexible.  The researchers noted that wearing high compression socks (but not low ones) lessened red blood cell flexibility (Whal et al. 2012).  As to whether or not this would matter in a competition is not known.

Compression Knee Socks:  No effect on cardio-output, heart rate, blood lactate or oxygenation was seen in endurance trained young men wearing compression socks while running (Sperlich et al. 2011).  This is admittedly outside my field, but why would you expect these measures to change with a pair of socks?  On the other hand, would the average person have expected to fine less of an upsweep in red blood cell flexibility when they put on compression socks?

Let’s look at something else . . . like the effects of compression clothing on recovery, strength and muscle wobble.   We will continue the question of “Do Compression Garments work?” in the next post and hopefully get some insight from Top Ranked Master Ken Cutrer of CrossFitEST and three time Individual Competitor Candice Ruiz of CrossFit Iron Horse.

Chris Lofland at CrossFit EST

Sperlich B, Haegele M, Krüger M, Schiffer T, Holmberg HC, & Mester J (2011). Cardio-respiratory and metabolic responses to different levels of compression during submaximal exercise. 
Phlebology / Venous Forum of the Royal Society of Medicine, 26 (3), 102-6 PMID: 21228356  

MacRae BA, Laing RM, Niven BE, & Cotter JD (2012). Pressure and coverage effects of sporting compression garments on cardiovascular function, thermoregulatory function, and exercise performance. European journal of applied physiology, 112 (5), 1783-95 PMID: 21901265
Wahl P, Bloch W, Mester J, Born DP, & Sperlich B (2012). Effects of different levels of compression during sub-maximal and high-intensity exercise on erythrocyte deformability. European journal of applied physiology, 112 (6), 2163-9 PMID: 21964909

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