Is Drinking Alcohol After a Workout Bad For Your Fitness?
We get it. A bottle of cold beer sounds enticing after a few hours of workout or athletic event. After all, drinking alcohol is often part of a celebration or relaxation process, right?
You can even see pro athletes and Olympians promote alcoholic beverages as post-workout drinks. Some sporting events, such as marathons in France, offer alcoholic drinks throughout the course.
However, hydration is also a crucial part of the recovery process and we all know that alcohol can lead to dehydration.
So, what does science say about drinking alcohol after a workout or physical activity? Is it good or bad for your health and recovery?
In this article, we will discuss how drinking alcohol after a workout affects your muscles, recovery, and health and shed light on the impact of alcohol on your fitness journey.
Your body excrete tons of fluid through sweating during a rigorous workout to sustain physical effort. Aside from fluids, your body also loses electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
You'll become dehydrated if you cannot regain the fluid loss from your sweat. Studies have shown that even 2% of dehydration can impair athletic performance and cause mental fatigue.
Other effects of dehydration:
- impaired muscle strength
- impaired endurance
Being well-hydrated helps your body cool off and deliver essential nutrients and electrolytes, especially after physical activity.
Proper hydration is needed for peak performance and recovery.
The short answer is no.
Alcohol promotes dehydration, which can hinder recovery. Your body needs twice as much water after one alcoholic drink. Combine this with all the fluids you lose after working out, and you are setting yourself up for inefficient muscle recovery and impaired physical performance.
Your body categorizes alcohol as a toxin. This means your body will prioritize getting rid of alcohol in your system over burning fats or muscle repair.
Not all carbs are created equal. Some are just that bad.
It's a myth that beer can replenish your body with quick carbs for energy. Although alcohol contains lots of carbs, it isn't a good source of carbohydrates for refueling. Carbs in alcohol are quickly metabolized and stored as fat.
About 90% of carbs in alcohol get converted to triglycerides (fat) rather than be used as glycogen for energy for your muscles.
Essentially, you are canceling some of the effects of exercise, especially if trying to sculpt your body and trim off some fat or lose weight.
Drinking alcohol after a workout can lead to longer muscle recovery due to the following reasons:
- It raises unnecessary inflammation in the body
- Impairs the production of protein required for muscle repair
- Promotes oxidative stress
- Interferes with hormones
This can also mean you feel sore much longer and wait an extended time to fully recover and get back to the gym.
For athletes, recovery time is a crucial aspect of their success. Studies have shown that the time you spend training is directly related to your competition performance and success.
Consuming alcohol can disrupt the normal creation process of new protein molecules for muscle rebuilding and repair. Even worse, alcoholic drinks also lower the hormonal response to exercise, primarily by decreasing testosterone levels and growth hormone production.
Testosterone is crucial for muscle gain and exercise performance. Lower levels of testosterone are linked to a decrease in muscle strength, endurance, muscle development, and even mental health.
Due to the increase in fat storage and high carb contents, drinking alcohol impairs the production of growth hormones, which are critical for muscle repair and muscle growth.
Alcohol lacks nutrients despite containing tons of calories. This makes it a poor post-workout beverage choice, and it could be counter-productive for your fitness goals, like chopping off some love handles or achieving a V-taper physique.
Nutritionists refer to these types of food and drinks as “empty calories.” This means these foods provide short-term energy from their calorie content but no beneficial micronutrients.
Ideally, your post-workout snacks or drinks should contain the following:
It’s a common misconception that alcohol can help you truly relax since it impairs your senses and lessens your ability to think about other things. However, counterintuitively, alcohol actually raises your stress hormones and spikes your heart rate.
In reality, alcohol bombards your body with stress hormones and inflammatory reactions. Ultimately, it dulls your perception and puts extra strain on your body.
Even small amounts of alcohol in our system have an impact on our brain and athletic performance, especially in reaction time. Alcohol impairs your hand and eye coordination, which can also increase the risk of injuries in the gym.
Alcohol disrupts the water balance in the body, which leads to impairment in your body's ability to generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a crucial component to fuel every cell in your body, including your muscle cells.
This leads to fatigue, low energy levels, and loss of endurance, which can affect your exercise performance and the overall quality of your workouts.
Going for a happy hour after a dehydrating workout session primes you for worse hangover potential. Alcohol has a diuretic effect, meaning it makes you urinate more and lose even more fluids.
During intense exercise, the liver releases glycogen into the blood to maintain optimal levels of blood sugar in the body. Adding alcohol to the mix of different chemical processes happening in the body can be too taxing for your liver and can lead to long-term damage.
Working out and alcohol is a bad combination.
Here’s a plan for women that will help you stay away from alcohol:
And for men:
Sure. A bottle of beer occasionally wouldn’t hurt. At the end of the day, it is all about habits. Opting for alcoholic beverages because it feels good is a habit you have learned over the years.
When you drink alcohol, you feel more sluggish and tend to engage in activities that harm your fitness goals. For example, drinking alcohol is proven to improve our taste perception of food, which can lead to overeating.
In contrast, working out regularly can help break bad habits and addictions such as alcoholism. The positive feeling that exercising gives to your brain can help you make continuous good choices that can add value to your life.
Fitness is good for alcoholism. Not the other way around.
Alcohol after a workout is bad for your fitness. Alcohol contains empty calories, making it a poor fitness recovery drink. Sticking to drinks with nutrients like protein, carbs, electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals can better assist your body in refueling and repairing exercise-induced damage.
Over time, choosing alcohol frequently over more nutrient-dense beverages can result in slower progress. You miss out on the muscle repair and growth supported by proper post-workout nutrition from whole foods and supplements.