Are Alcohol and Poor Diet and Sleep Sabotaging Your Exercise Routine?

Diet, sleep, and exercise are inextricably linked, impacting each other in numerous complex ways.

At least one thing upon which all scientists agree is that the more of these lifestyle factors you improve, the better your overall health and wellbeing will be.

Diet and nutrition affect virtually every aspect of human health. It has long been established that a healthy, balanced diet reduces the risk of numerous health problems, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and stroke. Diet can also have a significant impact on mental health.

Moreover, diet can make or break a fitness regimen. Studies show that combining regular exercise with a healthy diet offers more health benefits than improving diet alone. Meanwhile, consuming the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fluids at the right time decreases fatigue and improves performance. On the other hand, poor food choices just before a high-intensity workout can have disastrous consequences, making exercise more challenging and potentially triggering nausea.

What we eat directly impacts our sleep patterns, affecting not only sleep duration, but also sleep quality. Caffeine in particular is notorious for disrupting sleep. When consumed too close to bedtime, a stimulant like caffeine makes it hard to switch off. Similarly, consuming too many calories or fat at night can also affect sleep, as can a diet lacking key nutrients like vitamins A, C, D, and E and minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

As fitness experts highlight, it is impossible to out-exercise a poor diet. While a competitive cyclist about to embark on a 100-mile road race might get away with a calorically dense, high-carb snack, a quick jog around the blog is hardly justification for that level of indulgence. As Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Sara Haas points out, most people are not serious athletes and do not therefore require the same amount and type of fuel as pros. Indeed, it can be challenge to exercise enough to burn the calories contained in a double cheeseburger with french fries and a milkshake. To avoid weight gain and obesity, it is crucial to counterbalance any excess calories consumed.

Healthy food choices are critical to any exercise regimen. To shed weight and tone muscle requires intense physical activity. To withstand this, its vital to eat the right things. High sugar items like soda and candy provide a quick burst of energy, but those energy levels will quickly plummet, leaving you flagging.

Consuming a combination of healthy carbs and protein post-workout is the best way of aiding recovery. However, it is important to avoid extremely high amounts of carbohydrates or fiber since these can trigger digestive issues that may affect performance. According to McDaniel Nutrition Therapy founder Jennifer McDaniel, you should aim for a diet comprised of up to 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.

Losing weight is no mean feat. Unfortunately, consuming alcohol can complicate the process. We all know that the key to healthy weight loss is consuming fewer calories than you burn. However, alcohol not only is extremely dense in calories, but also has a unique physiological impact, actually slowing down metabolism. Even the supposed heart-healthy benefits of red wine have been largely debunked, with the vast majority of health experts agreeing today that alcohol simply does not do the body any favors.

A sports medicine physician at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, Dr. Joshua Scott warns that alcohol has multiple effects on different systems of the body, affecting muscle performance in the short run by inhibiting calcium absorption in muscle cells, which can lead to cramping. Additionally, alcohol lowers our inhibitions to poor food choices, as well as placing a greater burden on the liver, slowing down metabolism of other energy sources, including fat in particular.

An associate professor of muscle physiology at the University of Toronto, Daniel Moore, PhD, explains that when we are lightly exercising or resting, over 50 percent of energy consumed comes from burning fat rather than consuming carbohydrates or protein, which are less energy dense. However, when we consume alcohol, we interrupt the important process of converting that fat into energy, meaning that fat gets stored in our cells instead. While the effect is minimal with minor to moderate alcohol consumption, if you consume more than 2 drinks an hour, the liver simply cannot keep pace, slowing down metabolism, and triggering the accumulation of fat.

Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are all critical components in improving physical and mental health and wellbeing. In fact, diet, exercise, and sleep are so intertwined that it is impossible to say that one aspect is more important than the others.

If you need help improving your diet, exercise, or sleep habits, your physician should be your first port of call. With access to your unique health history, they can prioritize lifestyle changes and, if necessary, provide referrals to specialist services such as dieticians, nutritionists, physical therapists, and sleep specialists.

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David Geithner is a senior finance executive who draws upon nearly three decades of experience to serve as EVP and COO, IMG Events and On Location.

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David Geithner

David Geithner is a senior finance executive who draws upon nearly three decades of experience to serve as EVP and COO, IMG Events and On Location.