By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
Do you like a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer at the bar with your friends after a long day of rehearsals or performances?
Alcohol in the form of beer, wine, and spirits certainly has its place in Western culture. While we know that there are serious concerns about drinking, there are some surprising benefits too. So should dancers drink, or avoid alcohol all together?
Here’s the good news:
A phytonutrient called resveratrol found in red wine has been shown to reduce stress and has been speculated to contribute to longevity when consumed in moderation4. Keep in mind though that grapes also have resveratrol and won’t get you tipsy…
Moderate drinking (no more than 1-2 drinks a day) can reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. It may also increase levels of the good kind of cholesterol5.
But here’s the bad news:
Muscle strength and recovery
Knocking back a few after dance may not be the best idea, as acute alcohol consumption in large amounts has been shown to affect muscle function and recovery post-exercise1,3. However, another smaller study didn’t find the same level of impairment in low dose alcohol consumption in athletes, so there seems to be a dose dependent effect1,2. Meaning that the more you drink, the more it will affect your muscles, their recovery and their ability to build strength2,3.
Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. To put that in perspective, a carbohydrate only has 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. So any type of alcoholic beverage, including beer and wine, packs a big calorie punch. When added to sweet mixers, the calories increase even more. A typical margarita can have anywhere between 250-600 calories! Instead have Sangria which has about 150-300 calories and at least you are getting antioxidants from the red wine and fruit. The more alcohol a beverage has the more calories it has. For example, a shot of hard liquor can have about the same number of calories as a beer, but they are very different serving sizes.
We all know how alcohol affects the brain and that it impairs our ability to operate anything complicated like a car or a Balanchine ballet. So please never drink and drive. It has also been shown to affect anxiety levels, sleep, blood pressure, and a host of other physiological conditions. We all know it can also be addictive.
Men vs Women
Men and women metabolize alcohol differently. Women physiologically will feel the effects faster than men because they produce less of an enzyme that helps rid the body of alcohol. It also increases breast cancer risk.
So to summarise, alcohol is not a “no no” for dancers, but it should always be consumed wisely and not in excess to allow you to perform at your best. If you are of legal age, and you do decide to drink, please do so responsibly and don’t drive.
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barnes MJ, Mündel T, Stannard SR. Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. J Sci Med 2010 Jan;13(1):189-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2008.12.627. Epub 2009 Feb 20.
- Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. 2014 Feb 12;9(2): 10.1371
- Barnes MJ. Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Sports Med. 2014 Jul;44(7):909-19. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0192-8.