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The Link Between Alcohol and Fitness

Alcohol can hurt your overall well-being. When you drink in excess, it can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Therefore, drinking alcohol can negatively impact your fitness goals and results.

Effects of Drinking Before & After Working Out 

You should never drink alcohol before you work out because it impairs your judgment and motor skills. For these reasons, drinking alcohol before working out can be dangerous. This is especially true if you are doing exercises like weight lifting or going for a run outside where there may be traffic. 

Drinking after your workout can also ruin some of your progress and negatively impacts your overall health. After all, alcohol interferes with rehydration, protein synthesis, and overall recovery (think: glycogen replenishment and sleep), which you need after a workout.6 All of this can affect your immune and cognitive functioning, mood, appetite (which can lead you to make unhealthy choices), and more.

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How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Workout?

Again, drinking alcohol can make your workout more dangerous. It is never safe to be drunk during exercise activities. Beyond the increased risk for injury, alcohol in your blood can affect your workout in several ways.

Does Alcohol Interfere With Muscle Repair & Growth?

Yes, alcohol does interfere with muscle repair and growth. When you drink alcohol, it may take your muscles longer to repair and to grow. This is because alcohol contributes to protein breakdown, which you need to build strength.4

Plus, alcohol intake is linked to weight gain, which can make it difficult to see any muscle growth.7 This is because many alcoholic beverages are high in calories (empty calories with no nutritional value). So, if you spend hours exercising in the gym to burn calories, but you drink alcohol regularly, you are slowing down the process.

That said, some research shows a reduced leakage of the proteins in the muscles when alcohol is ingested before working out.5

How Does Alcohol Affect Soreness?

Yes, you may feel extra sore after working out if you drink pre- or post-workout. Drinking alcohol may make you feel your workout more, even if you only have one drink or a few drinks. This is because alcohol dehydrates you, which may make your muscles feel stiff.

How Does Alcohol Impact Performance & Energy Levels?

Alcohol can significantly impact your workout because it increases fatigue. If you have consumed alcoholic beverages the night before a workout, which could also impact your sleep, chances are that your performance will be off balance.

Specifically, alcohol increases your level of epinephrine, which is a stress hormone.2 It boosts your heart rate, which means it can keep you awake and disturb your sleep. This is why when you drink alcohol and workout the next day, you may feel extra tired.

Plus, if you have a hangover from consuming too much alcohol, it can also lead to a poor performance.

How Does Alcohol Cause Dehydration? 

Alcohol makes you sweat and causes dehydration. Because you sweat when you workout, drinking alcohol and exercising can be bad for your overall wellness. If you have alcohol in your system, or if you are hungover going into a workout, it is important to drink extra fluids to keep yourself hydrated.

Research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs suggests that rehydration after exercise is especially important when you have fluid loss from alcohol.3

How Long Should You Wait to Drink Alcohol After Working Out?

How long you should wait to drink alcohol after working out depends on your fitness goals and drinking behavior. Having a glass of wine in the evening after a workout will not throw off your lifestyle if you are trying to live a healthy one. But drinking alcohol after working out can slow your progress, especially if you are trying to lose weight. 

Can You Drink in Moderation While Maintaining Fitness Goals?

Yes, you can drink in moderation while maintaining your fitness goals. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption can have some positive effects on your cardiovascular health.8

But every single body is different, and it is important to listen to yours. If you find that you do not exercise well when you drink alcohol, and this impacts your performance, drink less. If you find that alcohol is responsible for many of the calories you consume, you may want to consider cutting back or cutting it out completely.

At the end of the day, alcohol could hurt your exercise routine and slow your growth. For example, if you drink a lot one night, your recovery time might throw you off track. Plus, it may take your body longer to recover from your workouts and any possible injuries if you drink in excess.

If you are spending hours counting calories, cutting bad carbohydrates, focusing on your nutrition, and working out your body with a different exercise for every muscle group, booze can get in the way and counteract your hard work. Ask yourself: does that one beer feel worth it?

Symptoms of Alcoholism & Treatment Options

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse or alcohol use disorder (AUD), know that help is available. Reach out to your trusted medical professional, or seek out support via peer groups, inpatient or outpatient rehab, or therapy.

Symptoms of alcoholism include, but are not limited to, the following.2

  • Being unable to control your alcohol intake
  • Craving alcohol and thinking about drinking often
  • Needing more and more alcohol to achieve the same desired effect
  • Using alcohol to cope with stress
  • Being unable to quit drinking
  • Finding yourself lying about your alcohol consumption
  • Making excuses about your alcohol consumption
  • Allowing alcohol to affect your work or school performance
  • Allowing alcohol to get in the way of responsibilities at home
  • Allowing alcohol to take a toll on relationships, including friends and intimate partnerships
  • Spending excessive money on alcohol, which can lead to financial issues

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Resources

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  1. Alcohol and Fatigue.” Harvard Health, 9 Aug. 2019.
  2. Alcohol Use Disorder.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018.
  3. B;, Irwin C;Leveritt M;Shum D;Desbrow. “The Effects of Dehydration, Moderate Alcohol Consumption, and Rehydration on Cognitive Functions.Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  4. Does Alcohol Affect Muscle Growth?ISSA.
  5. F;, Clarkson PM;Reichsman. “The Effect of Ethanol on Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage.Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  6. Minnor, McCall. “Is It OK to Drink After Working Out?Aaptiv, Aaptiv, 11 Sept. 2019.
  7. Physical Fitness vs. Alcohol: What Are You Willing To Lose?Marine Corps Community.
  8. Z;, El-Sayed MS;Ali N;El-Sayed Ali. “Interaction between Alcohol and Exercise: Physiological and Haematological Implications.” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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