A physiotherapist tells you how alcohol can affect your muscles, ladies

Published on: 28 April 2022, 13:39 pm IST

The side effects of alcohol for women are many and different from how it affects men. An expert tells you about it.

alcohol side effects
Alcohol addiction is not in the best interest of your health, ladies. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and consume larger amounts, biological differences in body structure and chemistry lead most women to absorb more alcohol and take a longer time to metabolize it. After drinking the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher blood alcohols than men and the immediate effects of alcohol usually occur more quickly and last longer in women. These differences make women more susceptible to the long-term side effects of alcohol. As a physiotherapist, I am deeply concerned about the musculoskeletal and nervous disorders for women at various important stages.

Alcohol consumption during adolescence

Alcoholic myopathy is a condition that cause loss of function and strength in your skeletal and muscles in response to long-term or heavy drinking. This leads to rhabdomyolysis, oxidative stress (destruction of natural compounds), as well as interfere with activities in your cells like glycogen and lipid storage, and improper muscle contractions leading to weakness.

side effects of alcohol
Even if you have alcohol just for fun, do it in limits. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Alcohol side effects on muscles

An alcoholic, or someone after a night of heavy drinking, may notice muscle problems or discomfort after drinking. That’s because alcohol use can cause harm to the muscles.

Some muscle symptoms you may notice after drinking include:

* Pain or cramps
* Weakness
* Poor athletic performance
* Less endurance
* Impaired recovery
* Alcohol Disrupts Calcium Absorption
* Drinking alcohol interrupts the flow of calcium in muscle cells. Calcium is a substance that is responsible for helping muscles contract. Therefore, physio’s think that by harming how calcium works in muscle cells, drinking may reduce your strength.
* Alcohol-damaged muscles release Creatine Kinase (CK). It is released from muscle cells after injury. Most CK in the body lives inside muscle cells, where it helps to make energy for muscles to function. Therefore, if your doctor orders a blood test and it shows that your CK levels are high, this might mean that there is muscle damage. Alcohol harms muscles, and these damaged muscles then release CK.

alcohol side effects on muscles
Yes, alcohol can lead to muscle cramps. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Alcohol consumption can lead to muscle cramps

The main job of your liver is to get rid of harmful substances in your body. Your liver considers alcohol to be a harmful substance and will, therefore, make it a priority to get rid of the alcohol in your bloodstream. This fact means that other substances that the liver tries to get rid of, may have to wait longer to leave your body than if you had not been drinking. When you exercise, your body produces a chemical called lactic acid which can cause cramps.

Usually, your liver tries to get rid of the lactic acid. However, when you have been drinking, the lactic acid may take longer to leave your body because your liver is trying to get rid of the alcohol instead. The lactic acid can then linger longer than usual and cause extra muscle pain and cramps.

Alcohol can contribute to muscle breakdown

Unfortunately, after you drink alcohol, the chemicals in your body make it easier for your body to break down muscle and harder for it to build muscle.

Alcohol side effects for women athletes

1. Your endurance and energy levels are lower

During exercise, your body is fuelled by the essential blood sugar produced by the liver when it releases glucose into the blood stream. Drinking alcohol reduces your liver’s ability to produce these all-important sugars, meaning you’re basically running empty.

Here’s another side effect of alcohol. Its consumption can also reduce the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key energy source for muscle cells, required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. The more your muscles move, the more ATP that’s consumed, and the more that’s needed to fuel your workout.

alcohol side effects
Your energy levels may drop due
to alcohol consumption. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Your cardio performance drops

Aerobic exercise, or cardio, requires the body to pump oxygenated blood to the heart to deliver oxygen to muscles. When you’ve been drinking, that process is slowed, and so too are your blood sugar levels, meaning your muscles can’t access the quick energy they need.

3. Your quality of sleep is impacted

Getting a good night’s rest is vital for optimum sports performance, and when you drink alcohol your ability to get proper shut-eye plummets. Yes, you might drift off more easily, but research shows that alcohol reduces the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, meaning you’ll wake up feeling drowsy and low in energy the next day. Alcohol’s effect on sleep can also inhibit your body’s production of human growth hormone (HGH), which is required for muscle building and repair.

4. Dehydration means your performance is reduced

Alcohol is a natural diuretic. In layman’s terms, it makes you pee more – which is why you generally wake up gasping of thirst when you’re hangover. Dehydration can affect everything from your energy, to your endurance, to your body’s core temperature, which is all bad news if you have a big game or a workout planned.
When you’re dehydrated, your body’s stocks of electrolytes like magnesium, potassium and calcium are depleted. These are vitally important to the maintenance of fluid balance, muscle action and muscle coordination. Water-soluble vitamins like B6, B12 and Vitamin C are all depleted by dehydration too, making you more prone to illness and reducing your body’s ability to function at its best.

dehydration due to alcohol
Alcohol consumption can leave you feeling dehydrated. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. You’re more likely to cramp up during your workout

If you’ve ever had your match day, chances scampered by a cramped-up calf, or had to stop mid-deadlift due to glute pain, you’ll know how annoying muscle cramps can be. Drinking alcohol in the 24-hour period before training can contribute to a build-up of lactic acid, putting you at increased risk of cramping and muscle fatigue.

6. Your reaction times are slower

Alcohol’s sedative effects can mean bad things for your performance and reaction times for up to 72 hours after drinking. Poorer hand-eye coordination and slower response times might be okay if you’re working out alone, but not if your teammates are relying on you.

7. You’re more at risk of complications from injuries

Drinking alcohol increases blood flow and swelling around soft tissue injuries like sprains, bruises and cuts, which slows down healing time. Plus, alcohol’s ability to mask pain means you’re less likely to treat an injury with care, which could lead to further damage.

Even if you don’t have a specific injury, drinking before or after exercise could greatly affect your body’s ability to repair and recover, as alcohol can reduce testosterone, which is important for muscle development.

alcohol can lead to injury
You can end up with more injuries if you regularly consume alcohol. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How to treat muscle problems from drinking

The only proven remedy for muscle problems from drinking is to reduce or stop alcohol use. If you have minor muscle problems from a single bout of heavy drinking, your muscles may begin to improve within a few days. However, chronic drinking or alcoholism can damage the muscles to the point that it can take months to fix the damage. Physiotherapy can help to an extent. But now that you know the side effects of alcohol for women, be more mindful!

Dr S. Mohanapriya (PT) Dr S. Mohanapriya (PT)

Dr S. Mohanapriya (PT) Senior Executive Physiotherapist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Chennai – OMR

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