Last year I took the 21-Day Dry January Challenge with Sober Sis because I was curious about how alcohol was impacting my athletic performance and it completely changed my relationship with alcohol. Today, I’d love to share some of the things I learned as well as the benefits of going dry in January, or any month, for those that might be sober curious.
The most comprehensive study has shown that six months after completing Dry January, 65% of people positively changed their habits by drinking less or cutting alcohol out totally. That was amazing to me! I was sober curious because I was training for an Ironman, but so much of what I do for my clients is based on habit change as it relates to healthy living in general. 65% was so much more than I had originally considered from an early year challenge.
Habit change isn’t the only benefit, however. Here are just a few of the benefits of going Dry:
Feeling Better– The effects of alcohol span throughout the entire body, including the brain, heart, and liver. A few benefits include less bloating, healthier-looking skin, better hydration, less inflammation, and most importantly, no hangovers!
Improved Energy – Alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle, interferes with the quality of deep sleep, and makes it harder to stay asleep. Lack of sleep leaves you feeling sluggish and drained and can make it harder to lose unwanted weight.
Mental Clarity– The consequences of alcohol on the brain are no joke. You may start to notice more restful sleep, stress relief, improved mood, and a clear mind.
Decreased in Anxiety – People often turn to alcohol to relax and unwind. However, the truth is, regular alcohol consumption can cause you to feel more anxious. Drinking regularly can interfere with your body’s ability to manage stress, interfering with your natural stress response. Many people report that decreasing alcohol intake results in a decrease in anxiety!
Saves money– The cost of alcohol can add up over time. You might notice a happier bank account during the challenge. Check out this online tool by Finder.com that calculates your “liquidity” to determine your actual savings.
Weight Loss– Alcohol contributes extra empty calories. One of the benefits of giving up booze is a drop in body fat.
Developing Healthier Habits– Use this time to cultivate new habits and identify healthier ways to manage stress and emotionsMY .
For the athlete, like me, improving physical performance is a goal many set to achieve. We work and train hard, looking forward to the weekend to let loose and have fun while sipping a few beers or cocktails. You worked hard and deserve it, right? I always thought, “It’s just one night”, and never considered the impact on my performance goals.
Unfortunately, I learned the effects of alcohol extend beyond the night of drinking, impairing mental, physical, and athletic performance. So, understanding the consequences of drinking may help you determine if going “Dry” or “Damp” this month is for you, too.
Here are some of the ways alcohol decreases athletic performance:
Decreases athletic performance and slows reaction time. Alcohol impairs motor skills and reduces strength, power, and sprint performance. It slows reaction time and impairs precision, equilibrium, hand-eye coordination, accuracy, balance, judgment, information processing, focus, stamina, strength, power, and speed for up to 72 hours (three days).
Increases risk of dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic that can lead to dehydration. It also impairs temperature regulation and accelerates fatigue. Research has found that “binge” drinking can decrease performance as much as 11.4% the day after, and negative impacts on performance can last up to 72 hours!
Can increase body fat composition. Drinking could lead to increased body fat accumulation due to ethanol storage as fat. Alcohol’s stimulant effect can also result in increased caloric intake by increasing your appetite. In addition, it has 7 calories per gram, and therefore can result in unwanted weight gain over time.
Slows recovery and increases the risk of injury. This was a big one for me! Alcohol interferes with muscle repair and impairs muscle protein synthesis, which can result in reduced muscle strength. Regular alcohol consumption will also decrease immune function and can hinder the healing of an injury. Musculoskeletal injury is 30% higher in athletes who drink versus those who do not.
Causes sleep disruption. Alcohol can interfere with sleep patterns, disturbing sleep cycles, and inhibiting muscle repair and synthesis. Fatigue is associated with an increased risk of injury as well as compromised cognitive function.
Can create hormone imbalances. Alcohol can cause a decrease in testosterone and an increase in estrogen, causing fluid retention and unwanted weight gain. Low testosterone is linked to the inability to increase muscle mass and strength.
Increased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Alcohol inhibits your body from absorbing essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B12, folate, zinc, and iron. A deficiency in these nutrients will impact recovery and performance.
Additional long term effects of over-consumption of alcohol can include:
- Increase in, oxidative stress impacting immune system function
Increases the risk for nutrient deficiencies by interfering with vitamin and mineral absorption.
- Increases the risk of addiction and the long term consequences that come with it.
While going Dry in January didn’t personally convince me to give up alcohol all together, the overall benefits of reducing my intake and risks of decreased athletic performance did convince me to significantly reduce the frequency and amount of alcohol I consumed. I noticed that when I opted for mocktails or non-alcoholic beverages, I got better sleep, it helped me stay on top of tough, Ironman distance workouts and I was less sore.
So, while a Dry January challenge may not be for everyone, I certainly recommend it. As with most things, moderation is key. If you are of legal drinking age and consuming alcohol, but don’t feel like going Dry is for you, follow the guidelines below for moderate intake, which includes:
- No more than 1 – 2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per women
- One drink equals 12 oz of regular beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof liquor.
If this post has your sober curiosity peaked, stay tuned for my next post, 4 non-alcoholic beers for athletes.