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Does Alcohol Impact Your Fitness Journey? How To Drink When Transforming Your Body 

 May 18, 2022

by Jess

These days, the philosophy of many of the people that you meet at the gym is “work hard play hard”. So, you will see them hitting the gym five times a week and producing a serious sweat, but you will also see them at the bar every weekend knocking back more than a few bevies.

But we all know that alcohol is questionable for your health. So, when you are working hard to transform your body, should you really be drinking booze?

Just to be clear. We hope that it is general knowledge that you should never drink alcohol before a workout or a sporting performance. It impairs judgment, hand-eye coordination, performance, stamina, and much more. We are talking about drinking in general, in the evening and on weekends.

The short answer to this question is no, you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol. It can impair and slow down your gains, so if you are serious about transformation, it is hindering rather than helping.

That said, the discipline required to self-transform in terms of diet, exercise, sleep patterns, recovery sessions, and more is pretty intense. It is very easy to become demotivated and “fall off the wagon”. Depriving yourself of other things that you enjoy in life, such as a beer with friends or a glass of wine with your partner, is probably just going to make finding the motivation you need to stick to everything you need to do any easier.

For this reason, if you do enjoy a social drink and find it something challenging to give up, we don’t necessarily recommend that you go “cold turkey”. It can be better to choose when, what, and how often you drink wisely, rather than feeling like a martyr.

So, in today’s article, we are going to take you through exactly what alcohol does to your body which impeded your athletic performance and physical transformation to give you a good understanding of why it is important to be careful with alcohol.

Then we will look at how to drink when you are working out, discussing both which drinks to choose and the types of limits that you should place on yourself.


How Alcohol Impedes Fitness Gains

As already stated, we hope it goes without saying that you should never drink before heading to the gym or participating in sporting activities. It diminishes physical abilities, limits coordination, affects cognitive precision, reduces reaction times, and cuts your endurance.

But what does alcohol do to your body more generally that can undermine your athletic performance and your fitness gains?

In summary, alcohol affects your body’s ability to recover from a workout, meaning that you can be sore for longer, and to build muscle, so you don’t get as much of a payoff for all of your hard work. It also undermines cognitive function, even after the hangover has passed, which makes it harder to make good decisions and stick to your health and transformation commitments.

Disrupts ATP Processing

Alcohol undermines your body’s ability to process adenosine triphosphate, better known as ATP. ATP is important because it provides energy to muscles for contraction, nerve impulse propagation, and chemical synthesis.

You use ATP while performing exercise, but it is also essential during your recovery period for the small tears you made in your muscles while working them to repair themselves, leaving you with stronger muscles.

So, if you drink alcohol a few hours after you work out, during your body’s recovery period, you are undermining your body’s ability to repair and grow muscles. Studies show that just a few drinks can reduce muscle growth by as much as 37 percent.

Plus, you will feel sore for longer, which will make it hard to perform as well during your next workout.

Disrupts Sleep

While you might fall asleep quickly after a few drinks, alcohol undermines the quality of your sleep, and you will find that you spend less time in the restorative sleep stages. This is when most of the gains that we made in the gym get integrated into our system and become more permanent. So, again, you are reducing the impact of your hard work.

Being tired undermines your ability to make good decisions and your willpower. This again makes it harder to stick to a diet or find the energy to work out when there are other tempting offers available, such as another trip to the pub.

It also reduces your production of human growth hormone (HGH), another hormone essential for muscle development. So, if you are trying to grow your muscles and get stronger, you are making this harder for yourself.

High in Calories

A night on the drink can see you drinking as many calories as you might have eaten that day!

Every gram of alcohol contains seven calories. And that is before it is mixed with sugars for taste, which add even more calories. So, just a standard shot of vodka contains almost 100 calories, and then if you add a mixer, it could be double that.

These are “empty” calories that do not contain any nutritional value. Not only do they not add anything, but they can make you hungry as your body starts to crave the nutrients that it was expecting from all those calories but did not receive. So, a whole week of hard dieting can be undermined by just one night out on the town.

Reduces Metabolism

As well as adding calories, alcohol slows down your body’s metabolism, meaning that you burn fewer calories and are more likely to store energy as fat.

This is because when your liver is working hard to break down alcohol, your metabolism slows down to give your liver more energy to work. So, the effects of this aren’t just when you are drinking, but overnight and even into the morning.

Increases Risk of Dehydration

It is easy to get dehydrated after a workout, and alcohol, despite being a liquid, also dehydrates as it is a diuretic effect. That means that if you have a few drinks after the gym, you can find yourself highly dehydrated.

This reduces your strength and stamina, and your body’s ability to regenerate itself and build muscles. It also makes it harder for your body to process the alcohol that it has taken in, so your liver will be working for longer, extending all the other effects associated with drinking.

Makes Your Next Workout Harder

Alcohol strips the body of glycogen, which allows your body to work at high intensities. The effects of this can be long-lasting, depending on how much you drink and other steps you may have taken to restore levels.

This means that your next workout could feel a lot harder than your last one. Not only are you likely to get less done in the gym, but the chances of becoming demotivated also increase.

Impedes Cognitive Function

A night of heavy drinking can impede cognitive function for up to three days after. We have already talked about the importance of good decision-making for sticking to a regime that will enable you to transform. This becomes much harder when you drink.

Do you know why protein is important to body transformation? Read our protein guide.


What Can I Drink When Working Towards Transformation?

While it is pretty clear that your body will thank you if you just give up alcohol, that is not always easy for everyone. It is also not just about the taste or the feeling, it is about the social element. It can be hard to go out with friends and family while everyone is having a drink or two and you aren’t. This can end up being very demotivational, and this can do more damage to your progress than if you just let yourself have one drink with your partner.

If you don’t have a problem giving up alcohol, that’s great. But if you don’t want to completely eliminate alcohol for whatever reason, what you need to do is come up with a set of rules that work for you.

The rules should focus on when, how much, and what you drink.

Limit When You Drink

For example, if you are working hard at the gym, but you still want to be able to have a drink with friends on the weekend, you could have rules such as “I don’t drink on the nights that I go to the gym”, but I am free to do so on a Saturday night. That way, you minimize the impact of alcohol during those key recovery hours.

Similarly, you can have rules such as “I don’t drink during the week”, “I don’t drink before 6pm even on weekends” and on forth.

If you do plan to drink on a day that you work out, make sure that you wait at least six hours before indulging to give your body maximum recovery time.

Having clearly defined and specific rules is helpful as it can take the pressure out of making a decision in the moment since the decision has already been made.

Limit How Much You Drink

Most of the scary alcohol outcomes that we have discussed relate to when you drink too much alcohol. While you still don’t want to drink for a few hours directly after a workout, the occasional glass of wine with dinner or one pint after work with friends probably won’t do you too much harm.

While you should be aiming to give yourself a good number of alcohol-free days per week, generally speaking men can have two drinks a day and women one drink per day without serious adverse effects. But what is considered one drink? 350ml of beer (not a pint), 150ml of wine (not a large 250ml glass), or one 35ml shot of liquor.

Of course, you might want to have a few “nights out” where you indulge a little bit more, and that’s fine two as long as they are once or twice a month, and not once or twice a week.

Hopefully, if you are cutting back on alcohol anyway you will find it easier to cut back on a bigger night out. But if you need help with some guidelines, consider drinking to stay under the limit to drive. This means no more than one alcoholic drink per hour and having a small glass of water between your drinks.

Consider What You Drink

We’ve all heard that red wine is good for you and there are actually other alcoholic beverages that contain health benefits when drank in moderation. So, when choosing what to drink, consider choosing one of the following.

Beer

Beer contains phenols, which are powerful antioxidants, so the occasional dose can do you some good. Ales contain significantly more phenols than your standard beer, so choose ales.

If you are counting calories, light beer is not necessarily a better choice. For example, both Bud Light and Heineken contain 110 calories per serving and around 4% alcohol content, so don’t be tricked into choosing something just because it has the light label. Even a class of Guinness only contains 119 calories.

Wine

Wine is probably best known for being a “healthy” alcoholic beverage. This is because it contains a compound known as resveratrol, which has been linked to cancer prevention, reduced memory decline, inhibiting weight gain, and protecting your teeth.

Dry wines are better than sweet wines because they contain less sugar, so choose Riesling in red and Sauvignon Blank in white. If you are a fan of sparkling, choose a Brut, since this is also low in sugar.

Liquor

Liquor tends to be low in calories, so that’s nice if you like your whiskey on the rocks. But the fact is that most people mix their liquor with sugary beverages such as Coca-Cola or even energetic drinks (a terrible idea). These are full of calories and sugar and should be avoided if you are focussed on your body. Don’t try substituting your mixer for a sugar-free version, as the fake sugars play havoc with your hormones. Instead, choose soda with freshly squeezed lime.

You can find all of our diet for fitness articles here.


FAQs

Does alcohol affect your fitness?

Yes, alcohol can affect your fitness as it strips the body of hormones and compounds that it needs to recover and build new muscles, limiting your gains. It can also slow down your metabolism, add excess calories to your diet, and make you more hungry and likely to binge eat.

Which alcohol is best for fitness?

Spirits are often recommended for fitness buffs because they are low in calories, but as long as you are aware of the calories in other drinks such as beer and wine, there is no reason not to drink these. The real key is quantity, you don’t want to drink so much that you start to strip your body of important nutrients, and when, you shouldn’t drink within six hours of completing a workout.


The Verdict

Yes, alcohol, especially drunk in excess or too soon after a workout, can seriously compromise your fitness goals.

Alcohol affects your body’s ability to recover from a workout, meaning that you can be sore for longer, and to build muscle, so you don’t get as much of a payoff for all of your hard work. It also undermines cognitive function, even after the hangover has passed, which makes it harder to make good decisions and stick to your health and transformation commitments.

Limiting when your drink and how much, and making good choices when it comes to what you drink can help you reach your fitness goals faster.


References

About the author 

Jess

Jess is the yoga and fitness editor here at The Fit Brit. She is a qualified yoga teacher and semi-professional capoeirista, and currently lives in Brazil.


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