Planning your St. Patrick’s Day green beer fest already? Have fun, but keep your training on track by knowing the effects.
How exactly do those festive libations become the reason you can’t walk straight by the end of the night and get a splitting headache in the morning? Alcohol makes quite the tour of your body from the time of ingestion to elimination, hitting many organs and wreaking havoc along the way.
DOWN THE HATCH
Once alcohol hits the stomach, about 20 percent of it is absorbed into the blood. The other 80 percent travels to the small intestine, where it enters the bloodstream and is pumped throughout the body. Drinks containing high alcohol content or carbonation—as well as drinking on an empty stomach—accelerate the absorption process. Gender will also start to play a role regarding blood alcohol content. On average, women will typically be less effective diluting alcohol due to their slightly higher body fat percentage and therefore lower amount of total body water compared to that of men.
The amount of alcohol in your bloodstream will determine the extent of brain impairment. Will you just be happily buzzed and laughing at everyone’s jokes, or will you fall flat on the floor on the way to the bathroom?
Alcohol does a number on several parts of your brain. The cerebral cortex processes thoughts. Its depressed function at the effects of alcohol can cause you to become more talkative, less inhibited, and quite self-confident. Thinking and judgment take a nosedive. The limbic system controls memory and emotions. Alcohol’s effect here may cause you to “lose” parts of your night and may lead to exaggerated emotional outbursts. The cerebellum’s role in motor control under the influence of alcohol will bring you from a highly coordinated athlete to “that guy” who can’t balance on his own two feet. The hypothalamus coordinates many hormonal and behavioral patterns, and it influences activities of the autonomic nervous system responsible for functions such as heart rate and digestion. Among many other things, with increased alcohol in the bloodstream, negative influence to this part of the brain can start to affect your bedroom performance.
Approximately 90 to 95 percent of the alcohol that you drink will be metabolized (broken down) in the liver so it can be eliminated from the body. It’s broken down into acetaldehyde by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. From acetaldehyde, it’s converted to acetate, and then into carbon dioxide and water. Alcohol is metabolized at a slower rate than it’s absorbed, with the average healthy person only able to metabolize about 0.5 ounces of alcohol per hour, which is equal to six to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one to 1.5 ounces of liquor. Ladies are at a slight disadvantage compared to men for clearing these toxins, as they have lower levels of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme.
END OF THE ROAD
Most alcohol is metabolized in the liver, but the remaining five to 10 percent ends its grand tour via sweat, breath, or by way of the kidneys through urine. As a vasodilator (causing blood vessels to relax and increase blood flow), alcohol will increase blood flow to the skin, which creates a flushed appearance and causes you to feel warmer and to sweat. Alcohol in the blood travels to the lungs, some of which will be exhaled, giving off the stench of whatever cocktails you just enjoyed. Alcohol is also a diuretic (increasing the amount of urine produced by the body), causing dehydration and loss of vitamins and minerals. Those annoying and frequent bathroom trips start as alcohol decreases the pituitary’s secretion of antidiuretic hormone, which would typically keep you from making too much urine.
The key to alcohol consumption is moderation, and if you want to stay on the “healthier” side of the cocktail conundrum, FIGHT!’s staff has a few personal recommendations that are better than many alternatives.
Crown Royal Deluxe / Diet Coke (1.5 oz. whiskey, 4 oz. Diet Coke)—97 calories, 0g carbs. Go diet and you save 45 calories.
Guinness Draught (12 oz.)—125 calories, 10g carbs. Guinness has 20–50 fewer calories than Budweiser, PBR, and Blue Moon.
Pinnacle Plain Vodka / Club Soda (1.5 oz. vodka, 4 oz.club soda)—60 calories, 0g carbs. Ditching the Red Bull for soda saves you 51 calories.