Alcohol’s Impact on Athletic Performance

Alcohol consumption is very common among college students for a variety of reasons. Some do it to socialize or fit in while others find it to be a way to relieve stress.  No matter what the reason may be for drinking, the effects alcohol has on the body remain the same.  Aside from the usual hangover there are a number of other physiological side effects that result from drinking large amounts of alcohol.  The severity of these effects will be different for everyone; however it could potentially have the greatest impact on student athletes because of the negative influences it can have on their athletic and academic performance.

The implications alcohol can have on an athlete can occur in a number of ways.  It has been found that alcohol can impede the liver’s ability to create glycogen, which contributes to our energy production.  In larger quantities it can also decrease the liver’s function to help the body recover after exercise.  There is a belief that alcohol can weaken the immune system as well, making it more likely to develop an illness.  Since alcohol is a depressant it causes the central nervous system to process information slower, which interferes with coordination, reaction speed and proper judgment (Adams et al, 2013).  All of these factors pose risks to an athlete’s ability to perform and could even keep them from playing at all.  Becoming sick can negatively impact how an athlete performs and could force them to miss practices and/or games if the illness is severe enough.  The issues alcohol causes for the central nervous system occur not only while intoxicated, as they also happen in the long term at a reduced effect.  This makes an athlete more prone to injury on and off the field of play.  While they are drinking they would be at an increased risk of getting hurt due to poor decision making and increased aggression.  There is also an increased risk of injury during a practice or game after a night of drinking because of the decrease in coordination and reaction speed.  Football players that regularly drink alcohol can increase their chances of suffering a sports-related injury up to 50% (Adams et al, 2013).

Another big reason alcohol can keep an athlete from performing at their optimal levels is the relationship it has with hydration.  Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes frequent urination in excessive amounts.  This leads to dehydration if the fluid is not replaced with water.  Dehydration of the body limits muscle performance and results in headaches until fluid levels return to normal.  Frequent urination also leads to a decrease in sodium and potassium, which are electrolytes that play a key role in muscle function.  Sleeping in a dehydrated state interferes with the quality of sleep too, which prevents the body from adequately recovering both mentally and physically (Adams et al, 2013).  All of the aforementioned would negatively influence an athlete’s ability to perform at their best.

It should be noted that all of the alcoholic implications that have been discussed vary between individuals and the degree to which these occur depend on the amount of alcohol consumed.  Alcohol can produce effects beneficial to the body when ingested in the right amounts.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that men limit their intake to two drinks or less per day and women to one drink or less per day.  No one should consume alcohol if they are not of legal age.  If you or someone you know might have a drinking problem do not hesitate to seek help.  Many colleges and universities provide services such as counseling to their students for little or no charge and should be taken advantage of in these situations.

Adams, H., Dziedzicki, D., Eberman, L., Kahanov, L., Mata, H., & Niemann, A. (2013). Alcohol Consumption Behaviors Among Collegiate Athletes. International Journal of Athletic Therapy & Training, 18(1), 35-38. Retrieved September 25, 2013, from the EBSCOhost database.

Thompson, W. R., Gordon, N. F., & Pescatello, L. S. (Eds.). (2010). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (8th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Health.

Heart Healthy Diet

From 1958 until 1970, Ancel Keys conducted the “Seven Countries Study (Brill, n.d.).”  Ancel was a nutrition pioneer who sought to find a connection between what we eat and our heart health (Brill, n.d.).  In this study, he analyzed the diets of people living in Finland, Italy, Greece, the Netherands, Japan, the US, and Yugoslavia (Brill, n.d.).  Ancel discovered that in countries where saturated fat intake was the highest, the risk of heart attack or stroke was the highest as well (Brill, n.d.).   But he also made an interesting discovery…

He found that the inhabitants on the island of Crete in Italy had one of he lowest rates of heart disease in the world and an unusually long life expectancy (Brill, n.d.)!

So, what was the difference in the inhabitants on Crete?

Well, it all came down to their diet.  It consisted of:

Fish
Oives
Olive Oil
Fruits
Whole Grains
Fresh Wild Vegetables
Little Red Meat
Abundance of Red Wine (Brill, n.d.)

These foods all contain very low amounts of saturated fat and are high in monounsatrated fat, omega-3 fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber (Brill, n.d.).

Now, you most likely have been told all your life to avoid fats, because well, they’ll make you fat!  But that’s actually not the case.  Some fats have health benefits, while others have health consequences.  It’s important to know the differences so that you don’t avoid heart healthy fats!

Monounsaturated fats keep “bad” LDL cholesterol low while increasing the “good” HDL cholesterol (Brill, n.d.).  This type of fat can be found in olives, nuts, and avocados (Brill, n.d.).

Polyunsaturated fats are essential fatty acids, which means that we need them in our diets because our body does not synthesize them (Brill, n.d.).  Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (Brill, n.d.).  These fats reduce inflammation, strengthen your immune system, fight immune dysfunction conditions, keep arteries flexible and reduce the potential for blood to clot (Brill, n.d.).  These fats can be found in flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and in fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, lake trout and herring (Brill, n.d.).

Those are the good fats, but you should also know the “bad” fats to avoid.
Saturated fat is the worst fat for raising LDL cholesterol levels (Brill, n.d.). Saturated fats are usually solid at room and are often referred to as fats or butter (Brill, n.d.).

Cholesterol is found in meat, chicken, fish, milk, and eggs, which are all animal sources (Brill, n.d.).  Cholesterol raises LDL’s just like saturated fats (Brill, n.d.).  It’s important to control your intake of these two fats to keep LDL’s at a safe level (Brill, n.d.).

Trans-fats are a man-made fat that is found in processed foods like peanut butter, cookies, and other packaged baked goods (Brill, n.d.).  They not only raise LDL levels, but they also decrease HDL levels (Brill, n.d.).  These fats are not required in our diet and should be avoided (Brill, n.d.).  DO NOT EAT THEM.

Now that we understand fats, let’s go back to the heart healthy diet. How exactly can we eat like we are in Crete to acheive a healthy heart?

Here are some practical heart healthy tips:

1. Cook with olive oil.
2. Eat a variety of fish high in omega-3’s.
3. Eat whole grain foods at every meal.
4. Eat dark leafy vegetables.
5. Eat legumes (lentils, peas, beans).
6. Eat fresh fruit every day.
7. Use garlic and onion to flavor food.
8. Eat nuts every day.
9. Have a glass of red wine with dinner (Brill, n.d.).

In conclusion, it is important to remember 3 things:

1. Decrease your intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans-fat.
2. Increase polyunsaturated fats (omega-3’s) and monounsaturated fats in your diet.
3. Follow the above 9 tips for healthy eating (Brill, n.d.).

To have a healthy heart, you should follow these guidelines, but you should also keep in mind that exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are key components as well (Brill, n.d.). If you do all these things, you will be on your way to a heart healthy lifestyle in no time!

Brill, J.B. (n.d.). Eat like you’re in crete: Teach your clients the benefits of the mediterranean diet. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 11(5), 13-20.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is a form of Korean martial art that utilizes a variety of punches, kicks, blocks, throws and holds.  It is designed to disarm and/or disable attackers through the use of precise blows to a person’s vulnerable areas (TKD at RPI, n.d.).  The main focus of Tae Kwon Do is to deveople an effective form of self defense that will become instinct so that you will be able to defend yourself when you least expect it.  However, Tae Kwon Do is not just a way to learn how to fight, it is also a great way to improve your fitness and strengthen your mind (TKD at RPI, n.d.).

Tae Kwon Do increases aerobic fitness through sparring and repetition of numerous drills meant to perfect form both in blocking and striking.  The use of body weight resistance exercises will increase strength and kicking drills will lead to improved lower body flexibility as well.  Over time the focus required to execute correct form and difficult techniques will result in a sharper mind with increased body control/awareness and is free of distractions.  Those who practice Tae Kwon Do also often experience increased amounts of energy and confidence (TKD at RPI, n.d.).

Tae Kwon Do is not for everyone, but it can be practiced successfully by many people regardless of their age, sex and experience.  There are numerous levels of complicity that range from simple blocks and holds to protect yourself and stop an attacker, to more difficult throws and attacks meant to disable and/or injure.  Those who do practice Tae Kwon Do find it to be a fun and exciting way to stay active and get in shape (TKD at RPI, n.d.).  Whether you are interested in learning how to protect yourself or you are just looking for a new and fun way to be active, Tae Kwon Do is definitely worth looking into.

Interested in Tae Kwon Do lessons near Waukesha?  Check out JK Lee Black Belt Academy at http://jkleeblackbelt.com/instructors/waukesha/

TKD at RPI Home. (n.d.). TKD at RPI Home. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://tkd.union.rpi.edu/index.html

Is Sleep Really That Important?

Many college students feel overwhelmed by the workload of each semester. This often leads students to think that the only way to survive college is to pull “all-nighters.” Days are filled with lectures, activities and work, and night-time is the time to prepare for that huge exam that they’ve known about since the first day of class. Students think that sacrificing sleep is better because they are studying, which should be helping them be ready for the exam tomorrow, right?

WRONG!

After several nights of losing sleep, even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night, your ability to function suffers as if you haven’t slept at all for a day or two (NIH, 2013)!

Sleep deficiency affects how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others (NIH 2013). People who are sleep-deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes (NIH, 2013).

While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day (NIH, 2013). It’s forming new pathways, which help you to retrieve information and to learn new things (NIH, 2013). Sleep enhances your ability to problem solve, pay attention, make decisions and be creative (NIH, 2013).

Did you know that you can actually sleep while you’re awake without even realizing it? These are called microsleeps (NIH, 2013). Think about a time when you were driving, and after a while you realize that you don’t remember part of the trip. If this has happened to you, then you have experienced a microsleep. These are caused by sleep deprivation. If these happen to you in lecture, you could potentially miss an important point the professor is trying to make, and get behind on learning the concepts (NIH, 2013).

A sleep deficiency can also cause weight gain due to hormone imbalance (NIH, 2013). If you are getting enough sleep, you would have a normal balance of the hormone ghrelin (hungry feeling) and leptin (full feeling) (NIH, 2013). When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin goes up while leptin goes down (NIH, 2013). As a result, you will want to eat more when you are sleep deprived than when you are well-rested.

Additionally, sleep-deprivation can weaken your immune system (Morgenthaler, 2013). Studies show that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus like the common cold (Morgenthaler, 2013). You will also recover more slowly if you do get sick (Morgenthaler, 2013).

Let’s put everything together now. Sleep deprivation can cause weight gain, difficulty concentrating, inability to recall information, difficulty learning, increased mistakes, decreased ability to pay attention, decreased creativity and cause physical sickness. Getting enough quality sleep per night does the exact opposite of all of these!

So does pulling an “all-nighter” still sound like the best idea? I didn’t think so. Just remember, an adult should get between 7 ½ to 9 hours of sleep each night (HELPGUIDE, 2013). While that may not be easy with the college schedule, I hope you will want to make sleep a priority.

For more info on sleep, how the sleep/wake cycle works, and how to know you may be accruing a sleep debt without even knowing it, visit this website: http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm.

HELPGUIDE.ORG. (2013). How much sleep do you need? Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm

Morgenthaler, T. (2013). Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lack-of-sleep/AN02065

NIH. (2013). Why is sleep important? Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why.html