Ask Stew: Alcohol and Advanced Physical Training

Ensuring a military member’s awareness of the limitations and consequences of over consumption of alcohol can have on a career could prevent them from crossing the line of another drink (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.).

It is not uncommon for young men and women in the military to drink alcohol when they have free time.  You might compare the ages of many college students to the same ages of many younger members of the military as both are in the age groups of 18-24.  Binge drinking is not uncommon in either population. But what is it doing to the body of those who “work hard and play hard”? Here is an email from a young man who just finished college and is training hard to join the military on a special ops level that addresses the issues with drinking and striving for optimal performance.

Stew, I am a recent college grad and spent most of my time outside of classroom activities working out and partying. I am 23 years old and looking to enlist and go special ops and was wondering how much this lifestyle of spec ops prep and still going out a few nights a week and drinking is possible. To be honest, some nights I drink too much and have a hangover in the morning.  I still train anyway, regardless of the pain. Any recommendations or information you can share as to making progress like this?  Steve

Steve – since you are being honest, I remember those days as well. I played rugby in college and those after game parties were intense. However, top it off with prep for Spec Ops training, school or work, and you will soon see a plateau or downgrade of your performance if you do this for a longer period of time.  Soon it will be time to GET SERIOUS.  Focus on your training and take your recovery more seriously IF you want to see the type of optimal scores and physical durability that are required.  Take your previous methods of working hard and playing hard BUT still training hard when not feeling 100% as a way to give yourself a gut check – maybe even call it mental toughness training. But it is time to stop and actually start treating yourself like an athlete – eat better, sleep better, hydrate better, train smarter.

Here is what is happening to you physiologically when you drink alcohol to excess, get drunk, go to sleep, and wake up and try to train with a hangover:

After a tough few days in a row of hard training (Monday – Friday), then a Friday night bingeing session, your body is shot! Not only do you need a recovery day from training hard, but the night’s sleep you just had on Friday did not help you at all with recovery. In fact, when you are drunk, you do not fall into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep AND you wake up dehydrated.  You probably feel like you have the flu (nauseated, headaches, sensitive to light, blurry vision, tired, thirsty, etc) which you can basically blame on being dehydrated from a combination of alcohol (diuretic) and not thoroughly hydrating after previous day’s workouts.

During REM sleep is the only time your body is actually helping you recover from previous tough workouts. You need REM sleep to see optimal performance goals in your future. Sleep is your number one best method of recovery. After a night out Friday, your Saturday workouts will seriously be affected. In fact, it is still recommended to get something done, but you need to hydrate, stay hydrated during the workout as you are very susceptible to becoming a heat casualty (heat exhaustion / stroke) if you are doing prolonged, intense training. You will at least feel a little better after training, but you should spend the rest of your day (not drinking) resting, eating, and hydrating.

To fully answer the question, alcohol has a negative impact on aerobic performance (run, swim, ruck – especially long efforts) as well as muscle recovery from resistance training (high rep PT, weights, load bearing, etc). Scientifically speaking, alcohol can inhibit muscle protein synthesis as well as create hormonal imbalances which is critical to your recovery, growth, optimal performance on fitness tests and challenging future spec ops events.

LOOK - Here Is The Deal (with additional links to read)

I remember being young and having this kind of energy to stay out late at night and wake up early in the morning and workout, however, there came a time to start taking it seriously. The Special Ops community is not looking for choir boys, but about a year out from you needing to be at your A-game, you need to focus on advanced level training that gets you TO and THROUGH the training. To do this will require more recovery time, good sleep (importance of sleep), good nutrition before, during and after workouts, smart hydration / electrolytes, and working thoroughly on your weaknesses with smart training for the future requirements of your selection program. Be smart – train smarter.

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About Stew Smith CSCS

Stew Smith is a Navy SEAL Veteran who supports the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  He also has over 1000 articles on Fitness Forum and over a 100 Podcastsfocusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

As a writer on the tactical fitness topic, Stew creates multi-week training programs to help you prepare for any test, training program, or just lose weight and get fit for duty. has the answer.

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