Sports and drinking often go hand in hand, whether it’s enjoying a few beers while watching a game, or celebrating a big win with your house league sports team at the local establishment.
Social drinking is a part of life for many people and it’s helpful to have some tools to keep us in check. I developed the Five Rules of Drinking to help me navigate the world of alcohol, and I think they could help you. But first, let’s begin with an important disclaimer.
8 truths about alcohol
I developed the Five Rules to reduce harm while still having a good time. But before we continue, let’s be clear about a few obvious things:
- You don’t need to drink to have a good time.
- A councillor is exponentially more effective than a bottle.
- Excess alcohol is addictive and harmful to your liver, brain and cardiovascular system, and can increase cancer risk.
- It also has a high social cost: The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation estimates the negative health effects of alcohol cost Canadians $7.6 billion every year.
- If your alcohol use is interfering with your family, job and friendships, get some help.
- Make sure you imbibe with trusted friends in a safe environment.
- Drinking and driving is for idiots.
- Mixing alcohol with other drugs can be disastrous.
And last but not least: Even if you never drink, the five strategies below will help you to live a healthier, more energized life.
Rule 1: When you drink your carbs, eat your protein
A stomach full of protein slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the blood. With food, Alcohol stays longer in the stomach where some of it is metabolized. Because the stomach absorbs alcohol at a slower rate than the intestines, this guards against excess alcohol entering your blood. Once in the blood, alcohol is also metabolized by your brain.
The buzz you feel while drinking is your brain turning alcohol into energy. Too much booze on the brain, though, and your neurotransmitters have serious problems. The result? Memory problems.
Most alcohol is metabolized in the liver. A stomach full of eggs, steak and spinach will stimulate blood flow to the liver and increases the production of liver enzymes that help to break down alcohol.
When you consume too much alcohol and don’t eat, your body can release excess insulin your blood sugar can drop. The result? Lost memory. Beer, wine and mixed drinks also contain refined carbs that can stimulate a memory-killing insulin response. Sadly, foods that drunken diners favour — pizza, doughnuts, and pretzels, for instance — also contain refined flours and sugars that exaggerate the insulin response. Choose salmon and asparagus instead.
Rule 2: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Alcohol is a diuretic that makes you urinate more than if you were drinking an equal amount of water. Although dehydration is not the main cause of hangovers, it often contributes to symptoms like thirst, headache, fatigue and dry mouth.
Water helps to metabolize and eliminate alcohol from your body. The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation recommends alternating between alcoholic beverages and water. One beer. One water. One beer. One water. And so on. Even better? Pre-hydrate with a few pints of water, too.
You can also add ice to your cocktail, and eat fruits and veggies as your snack.
Rule 3: Activity is awesome
Dancing, walking, feats of strength, tag, Zoomba… be creative. Find different ways to be physically active before, during and after your bender. Activity raises your metabolism, turning alcohol into fuel for fun instead of fuel for tomorrow’s hangover. If you sweat it out, all the better. Sweating is one of three ways your body can eliminate toxins like alcohol (the others being breathing and urination).
Studies on strength-training men, animals and alcoholics have shown that alcohol actively prevents muscle growth and repair. So don’t expect your drunken feats of strength to deliver any strength or fitness gains.
Rule 4: Sleep is sacred
Alcohol can impair both sleep quality and duration, and can disrupt your entire sleep schedule if you stay up too late. Although poor sleep doesn’t have much to do with most hangover symptoms, it contributes to the fatigue and irritability associated with hangovers.
Science is clear that circadian rhythms rule your body, and that the happiest, most successful people wake up at the same time every day. If you can control when the fun happens, have it occur during your normal waking hours. Keep to your normal bedtime.
Rule 5: Fighting inflammation also fights hangovers
Inflammation is an important mechanism that helps the body repair tissue damage, and many hangover symptoms are believed to be caused by low-grade inflammation. Alcohol in low quantities can reduce joint inflammation, but it takes very little to get this benefit. More than 1 oz of alcohol, and you’ve tipped the scales. A bottle of wine later, you may be holding your head the next morning, and suffering low-grade inflammation caused by excess alcohol.
Antioxidants are helpful here: Green tea, fish, nuts and leafy greens. The cactus fruit known as prickly pear is especially beneficial: In one study of 55 young and healthy individuals, taking prickly pear extract five hours before drinking reduced the risk of a severe hangover by 62 per cent.
This article is also available through CBC Sports.