Alcohol Free January, Are You Up to the Challenge?
OK folks, here's round two. Ready for this one? In January 2016, I wrote a similar article for IRONMAN http://bit.ly/2humN7m and it was well received. So well, in fact, that it seems logical to do it again. On the Mayo Clinic web site then, the question was posed;
"Does drinking alcohol kill brain cells?"
This was their answer:
Alcohol is a neurotoxin that can disrupt communications of the brain. It also affects functions of brain cells directly and indirectly through different organ dysfunction from alcohol usage and vitamin deficiency. Depending on the area of the brain affected, people can have different symptoms. Abusing alcohol can lead to seizure, stroke and dementia to name just a few conditions. Additionally, alcohol is toxic to a developing brain during pregnancy and can cause birth defects, including developmental disorders with lifelong impact.
Maybe that warning should come on your post-ride Mojito. Then again, maybe not. So, do I drink? Sure. I'll have a glass of wine while cooking dinner some nights, beer on the weekends or at the Tap House watching the Patriots (Aaak, not the Patriots!), a mixed drink or two at a party. Moderation in all things though. Some athletes feel that having a dry January is an important first step to their training year. It gives them one more thing in sport that they have complete control over.To them it makes a statement about commitment to the triathlon lifestyle. Not unlike a Tweet I put up recently about food which went this way:
Food - a choice. Pleasure if I eat it.
Pleasure if I don't eat it. I'll stay true to my core values, I'll feel strong, I'll feel proud, I'll feel I'm doing something meaningful.*
So we're talking about the whole month here, no alcohol. Birthday parties, NFL playoffs, dinner out at a nice restaurant, nada. Abstinence.
I know that some athletes make a point of taking 2-3 days per week where they don't imbibe. I've read that other triathletes report that a month away from alcohol can be a life altering, life improving adventure.
Believe it on not, I used to smoke. A lot. I was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot overseas and a primary helicopter instructor for the Navy when I returned from Vietnam. There's a fair amount of down time there. But I went from 2+ packs of Marlboros a day to zero the day I got accepted to medical school. Haven't had one since. And that was a good while ago. It was certainly life altering for me and my family. Oh yeah, and I discovered triathlon!
Getting back to this January challenge, I'd suspect that for some of us this won't be easy. In fact, I'm sure it will be quite a challenge. For example let's look at Alan, a 40 something year old tech guy who's been in triathlon going on seven years. He drinks wine with dinner virtually every night and a cocktail or two, maybe 3, over the weekends when dining out. He is well past his college days, thus flaming shots and Jager bombs are ancient history. So for Alan, taking this January challenge is just part of his long range plan to prepare him for the upcoming racing season. He doesn't see this as detoxing, just a desire to see if he can do it. What he's learned is that in addition to changing his relationship with alcohol, it changed his life for the better. And, as an unexpected side effect, he got faster. Woowee!
So are you curious? Me too. If it's anything like smoking cessation, the first week will be quite difficult requiring dedication and focus to get on the other side. But by mid January, Alan says "You feel brighter, cleaner." You're even in a better mood. The recipe for success starts with New Years eve and not guzzling everything in sight. It will make day one easier. Then on your first day, give away or pour out the beverages you most commonly consume. You're less likely to slip that way.
One author wrote that when you choose to be dry for the month, a lot of people "including your close friends" will be surprisingly nonsupportive and give you a hard time about it. I'm not sure I accept that. Maybe it says more about his "friends" than yours or mine. They're certainly not into triathlon! He even went so far as recommending in some social situations that you pretend you're on antibiotics and can't drink. Maybe that's OK for some but I doubt I'd do it.
So, are you with me? Alan says that after January with no booze that you might just do the same with February. It's a short month, remember? So let's liken this to bike inspection at our first triathlon. You were a little nervous, might have made a mistake or two during the race. At the end, though, you were all smiles. I'm thinking come the end of the month you'll be all smiles. So I'm up for giving it a try. Are you with me?
* The Calorie Myth, Jonathan Bailor