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Heads up, Athletes: 'You Drink, You're Cutting Yourself Short'

on February 08, 2011 6:00 AM

I’m becoming my dad.

While I have had some of his traits for quite a while, a newly acquired taste for a nice red wine is something that had eluded me the first 55 years or so of my life, but no longer. And while I did like a white zinfandel or a rosé, I no longer have a taste for what my father calls "your mother’s Kool-Aid."

Now neither my dad nor I drink a lot of wine. I average about a glass a day, and when I’m within a few weeks of competing, none at all. But I have noticed something very interesting since I stopped having any other kind of adult beverage besides red wine: a day later I don’t look like someone painted over my abs with a layer of mysterious gel. In other words, a glass or two of red wine does not have the same effect on me as the same amount of calories in another kind of drink.

I truly believe that with the exception of a bit of red wine (and even this is debatable), you can’t consider yourself an athlete in pursuit of the top of his or her sport if you drink. I hear all sorts of excuses about that: Look at how great so-and-so was, or it relaxed him, or he had to raise Cain to be effective. That’s nonsense.

You drink, you’re cutting yourself short.

It might be .1 as a gymnast, it may be a point as a wrestler, it might be a tenth of second in a 100-meter dash, but you simply won’t be as good if you drink. Make all the excuses you want. It’s true.

Now, if your goal is not to reach the top, no questions asked. Be my guest. Just don’t tell me that you’re better, or just as good.

So what about me and my glass of wine?

That’s an interesting question. I am a big blood-pressure fanatic; I think the blood pressure is like the barometer of the body. My training partner and fellow obsessive, assistant wrestling coach Casey Cunningham, and I are blood-pressure nuts. We have contests.

For Christmas, we bought him a cuff, and now we text each other our blood-pressure readings. If mine winds up lower, the response is a derogatory "sure, sure." But this is one area in which I can compete with him. However, he points out, I "cheat."

Casey does not touch any alcohol; neither do the other coaches. I have my glass of red wine. I will simply wait about an hour later, as long as everything is calmed down, and report the result, which is usually about  110/65.

In any case we are now doing battle since we both have the cuffs. I can’t compete with him in lifting, but I can hold my own in blood pressure (wrestling, obviously, is out of the question).

As for cheating, well, he doesn’t have to do what I have to do every evening for about an hour and a half, which is the most torturous thing I have ever done in my job, so much so that my blood pressure at 8 p.m. is very often running about 20 points higher than my normal reading.   

I won’t go into what it is, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. This past Saturday, the one day out of the week I don’t torture myself with the aforementioned part of my job, I set a record low of  99/61 with a pulse of  70 at  8  p.m. I am very proud of this, though Jess and the kids are normally around that. 

So here is my memo to all the athletes out there who drink and think they can somehow be as good as they could have been. I will allow you the glass of red wine. You have a nice glass of pinot noir at the next party and cut it off there; you have my blessing. Anything else, then I simply don’t believe you are doing all you need to do to make sure you have done your best.

But even with the one glass, the verdict is out.

Speaking of pinot noir, which is supposedly the best wine for health benefits, I am now becoming a wine snob. I can actually tell the difference between different wines. I am actually quite proud of myself, given my Neanderthal tendencies to develop mixed drinks for party guests that can eliminate facial hair. (Screaming coladas, nuclear Russians.) 

I no longer partake in these. For a while I was trying to develop a nutritionally positive mixed drink. I actually had a margarita called a “ripped-up-arita.” This was before the Red Bull-and-vodka craze. I got a no-calorie, lime, pre-workout stimulant drink and added my unique knowledge of tequila and other liquors to make this.

I no longer do such things, as the blood pressure then goes to 220/130. My goal is the opposite. (Or white Russians made with vanilla protein drinks—not good on the kidneys.) Try as I have to incorporate a knowledge of nutrition into alcohol, if you think you can get a beneficial drink with alcohol, fuggedabout it.

Except perhaps for the nice glass of red wine. 

Former Penn State linebacker great Gregg Buttle actually turned me on to the latest object of my snobbish affection, the Amarone family. We were in New York eating dinner with Gregg, who still looks like he can strap on the pads and go at it, and he made the suggestion. It is my current wine du jour. Unfortunately it is rather expensive and would butt into my protein supplement allowance, so I have a dilemma. (Ha, ha.)

I wish I knew this when I was in college. Once I walked on the wrestling team, I did not touch alcohol for the entire remainder of my Penn State career. Didn’t miss it in the least, and had a lot of fun. But as I think about, it might have been more interesting if I was, along with being a wrestling weatherman, a wrestling wine snob. 

Imagine being at a party, and everyone is doing their usual “Animal House” rendition and there I am, sipping my glass of pinot noir. 

Now that is making a serious statement.

I wonder if JoeBa No. 1 (Battista) ever thinks about things like this. 

Or if the biggest Joe in town does.

Perhaps a nice glass of red wine would help answer the question.

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