With all the latest training methods and supervised nutrition, modern footballers have become nothing less than machines. But the fact is that they are as much humans as the fans watching them. So when they have a good time, many of them like to consume alcohol.
And with stories of Paul Gascoigne and Paul McGrath showing the horrors of alcohol in football, it seems to be the killer of promising careers. On the other hand, players like Tony Adams, George Best, and Paul Merson all had fulfilling careers while being avid drinkers in the 70s and 80s.
So the question remains: what is the effect of alcohol on footballers? Let us try to find an answer
Alcohol and its Effects
There is no need to describe the general effects of alcohol on the human body. But how those effects translate for footballers is an interesting aspect to explore.
The active ingredient of alcohol is ethanol, which can have many fascinating effects in the human body, which also manifest themselves in a footballer. Some of the effects of alcohol in football are:
1.Greater Duration of Injuries
Injuries are part and parcel of the game. So recovery is a pivotal part of a season where players regularly get injured and have to work on their bodies to recover as soon as possible. The effect of alcohol in football injuries is such that it delays the recovery process and the duration of injuries.
This is possibly because alcohol violates blood vessels and allows a more significant amount of blood to reach the injured area, giving more significant bleeding and swelling. Add to that its effect on aerobic performance, and it can also potentially aggregate the chances of getting an injury.
Also, alcohol may be considered a way to sleep quicker. Still, it can interfere with the sleep cycles, making it difficult for the body to initiate the self-repairing mechanism it usually performs during sleep time.
2.Reduced Vitamin and Mineral Absorption
Our body is not designed to process alcohol efficiently or store it. So whenever excessive alcohol enters our body, it finds it tough to eliminate it. The liver becomes dedicated to eliminating alcohol and the ability of the liver to process vitamins and minerals becomes decreased.
One Vitamin deficiency (Thiamine), called Beri Beri is linked explicitly to increased long term alcohol intake and remains a major risk with chronic alcohol abuse.
Every vitamin and mineral is important not just for the athlete but for any normal person too. So long term use of alcohol in football can manifest itself as deficiencies of these vital chemicals.
3.Impaired Reaction Time
Alcohol is known to impair reaction time to different stimuli. This can be incredibly noticeable on the football pitch where every second matters. Every single tackle is contested, and when players are consistently late during the 50-50 tackles or can not make the decisive pass in time, the team is bound to suffer.
So this delay in reaction time due to the use of alcohol in football can be of considerable harm on the highest level while it may not be that noticeable for amateurs. This change is, of course, dose-dependent and would be more pronounced with higher intake with balance difficulty, accuracy, and motor skills getting affected due to alcohol.
Stamina is a vital feature of any modern player. The consequences of stamina when you use alcohol before football games are detrimental. What happens is that your body uses liver stores of glucose to power cells once the blood sugar runs out after several minutes of intense physical activity.
And when a player binge drinks the night before the game, the liver is busy removing the excess alcohol from the body and does not release enough glucose to help with the football. So another effect of alcohol in football is reduced stamina during prolonged physical activity.
Ethanol is a natural diuretic (increases urine) like tea or coffee. So it naturally gives a dehydrating effect. When you add to that the exertion while playing football, the sweating increases the level of dehydration experienced by players.
Dehydration is a significant problem in itself and can lead to several impairments that can interfere with the performance of football players that had a little too much to drink.
This includes excess body heating as alcohol deranges the ability of the body to regulate extreme temperatures due to the decreased cooling effect of water.
Any footballer trying to lose weight is instructed to stay off alcohol. On the contrary, many players are out of shape as the new season starts due to binge drinking in the off season.
Alcohol has a profound weight gaining effect. This is because of the higher sugar quantity in them, which gets converted to fat as the body is not able to burn it off with activity. As a poor source of carbs, alcohol is loaded with carbs, but the carbs are not able to reach your muscles where you need them the most.
Alcohol also promotes bouts of eating, and so many people on a diet tend to have extravagant meals under the influence of alcohol. A possible reason for this could be the dehydration produced by alcohol in football players, which may be perceived as hunger.
So alcohol in footballers can be a significant cause of weight gain which is understandably harmful for overall performance and sharpness, as seen in the case of Eden Hazard at Real Madrid.
Alcohol and Recovery
In terms of the recovery from the effects of alcohol and recovery after the game, there is increasing evidence that chronic alcohol intake delays recovery and gives considerable muscle damage.
Alcohol recovery is a process that takes time and effort. Remember, it is not only the mental recovery we are talking about here but also the recovery of physical dependency on the substance.
After a certain time, our bodies become accustomed to receiving a particular substance over and over again. Now, when we keep it from getting that substance, it will start showing withdrawal symptoms.
The withdrawal symptoms for a chronic alcohol user can include tremors, shakiness, increased heart rate, anxiety, sweating and vomiting etc.
This is probably one of the reasons why it is advised to start by cutting the amount of alcohol intake first, rather than going all in.
Can Football Players consume Alcohol?
Despite every warning about the harmful effects of alcohol, the fact is that it remains a part of life.
Alcohol in football in particular, is part of the culture. From Carlsberg at Liverpool to Heineken sponsoring the Champions League and Budweiser being a sponsor of both the Premier League and La Liga, football and alcoholic beverages go hand in hand.
For professional players, alcohol remains a good option to calm down and take their mind off things. After all, it is a depressant of the nervous system. Add to that the euphoric feeling it gives, alcohol (champagne) remains a staple of any trophy celebration in football. For certain teams, alcohol also seems to be a way to bond together and become a more cohesive unit (think the Oktoberfest of Bayern Munich); of course, there are other ways to do so.
All in all, alcohol does remain a part of the football players’ lives. So a realistic approach would be for those accustomed to it to control its intake and others to limit it becoming a habit.
In terms of the recommended maximum intake of alcohol in the UK, it remains about two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women. Now there is no question that alcohol is a major no on match days, and drinking it on the night before the game is frowned upon due to the detrimental effects mentioned above.
So what players that want to drink have to do is pace themselves. Only a few days are available in their schedule, and those days they can relax and do some of the drinking if need be. If someone has never consumed alcohol, the best advice would be to stay away and find the benefits of alcohol in other elements of life like friends and family.
On the professional level, many coaches disdain alcohol in football, and some, like Arsene Wenger, even enforced a fine on habitual drinkers. Any player who wants to make it big has to make sacrifices, and abstinence from alcohol is one of the major ones to make.
After all, the drawbacks of alcohol in football far outweigh its advantages so with so much science behind every move a modern footballer makes, abstaining from alcohol seems to be inevitable to make it big in the beautiful game.
Consumption of alcohol in football has more detrimental effects on the performance and general health of the players than benefits.
Some of the major drawbacks of alcohol use include a greater duration of: injuries, vitamin and mineral deficiency, impaired reaction time, decreased stamina, dehydration and weight gain. So there is a need for footballers to regulate their alcohol intake so that they do not drink close to games and young footballers should stay away from alcohol if they have huge aspirations.