WE ALL KNOW the feeling. You’re catching up with friends, enjoying the banter and idle pub chit chat that traditionally accompanies such momentous occasions. That’s when the question inevitably arises—who’s getting the first round? Perhaps you were only stopping by for a quick catch-up, perhaps you’ve got somewhere else to be, perhaps you were considering turning in early to make an early start the following morning, but it matters little now. Those plans have just taken an unshakeable hit.
Your friends will say that one drink won’t hurt, and you’ll likely believe them, but when it comes to achieving your health and fitness goals, one drink really can hurt. In the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, it’s common to diligently follow a regular workout routine and strict diet, but one factor that often goes unnoticed is the impact of alcohol consumption.
While enjoying an occasional drink may seem harmless, alcohol has a bigger impact on your athletic performance than you might think, and understanding how it can affect your fitness routine is crucial for maintaining consistency. To help you make an informed decision the next time that all important question arises, we’re delving into the ways alcohol can influence your fitness journey, providing insights on achieving a balance between social indulgence and maintaining an active lifestyle.
Is alcohol bad for athletic performance?
Let’s get down to business. Regularly consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can have a massively detrimental impact on your performance at the gym, or in any kind of physical activity. After all, alcohol is a sedative. In case you couldn’t already tell, sedatives aren’t an ideal pre-workout snack. Sedatives like alcohol can impair coordination, balance, and reaction time, which are vital components of any workout. These effects can be felt long after you’ve finished drinking, as it takes time for alcohol to leave your system.
Of course, there’s also the dehydration factor. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. A simple fix to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol is to drink extra water before working out. Exercising without drinking water will only dehydrate you further due to the amount of sweat excreted, potentially leading to exhaustion, decreased endurance, and muscle cramps.
Drinking alcohol immediately after a workout also robs your body of built-up glycogen, a hormone which helps keep your motor running when you’re operating at high intensity. Lower glycogen levels can lead to less energy and cause fatigue to set in sooner during your next workout.
A fairly obvious point here (we hope), engaging in any strenuous physical activity while under the influence of alcohol is a bad idea. If worsened performance isn’t enough to sway your opinion on the matter, the increased risk of injury certainly should be.
In short, drinking alcohol too soon before, after, and especially during a workout will have a negative impact on your performance.
Is alcohol derailing your fitness goals?
It is said that just about anything you consume is excusable, so long as it’s only ingested in moderation and balanced out with a healthy diet. This has led many to believe they can eat whatever they fancy and get away with it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While an occasional alcoholic drink won’t completely derail your fitness journey, there are certainly healthier options out there. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, drinking alcohol can have negative consequences.
Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and fat, and those calories are usually empty, as they hold very little nutritional value. Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to weight gain and doom your weight-loss efforts. An added negative is that many alcoholic drinks are mixed with other sugary liquids (like soft drinks), which can further hinder the fat burning process of a workout. So as it turns out, a few drinks after a workout really can nullify all of the progress you just made towards weight loss.
Alcohol also negatively impacts muscle recovery. After an intense workout, the body undergoes a process of muscle repair and growth. Consuming alcohol can interfere with this process, slowing down the body’s ability to recover effectively. This is because alcohol hinders protein synthesis, a key component in muscle repair, leading to delayed recovery times and impeding your muscle-building progress. One study showed that protein synthesis decreases by 37 per cent after consuming alcohol, meaning you’re sure to be sore for much longer.
How long should you wait to exercise after drinking alcohol?
While the impact of alcohol on the body varies from person to person, it is generally advisable to allow sufficient time for the body to metabolise the alcohol before engaging in physical activity. As a general rule, the same equation that applies to driving after consuming alcohol also applies to exercising. That is, to limit yourself to two standard drinks in the first hour, and one in every following hour before doing it. This is still not recommended, though, and exercising immediately after drinking alcohol shouldn’t be at the top of your concerns.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t be exercising at all after consuming alcohol, given the negative impact it will have on your performance. But we understand that sometimes you just need that endorphin hit, no matter the cost. With that being said, it’s recommended that you hold off on exercising for at least 12 hours after drinking alcohol. This allows your liver to metabolise the alcohol, reducing the risk of dehydration, dizziness, and impaired coordination during physical exertion. It’s also important to rehydrate before exercising. And remember, sometimes your body just won’t be up for it.
Does running home after a night out really prevent a hangover?
A recent viral TikTok suggests that the best way to prevent a hangover—and save some cash—is to eschew a pricey Uber ride home in favour of “running off the drunk” with a brisk jog. While this might save some money, it certainly won’t prevent a hangover, and can actually have some adverse effects.
As we discussed above, alcohol, as a diuretic, increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. Running home from the club can dehydrate you further due to losing fluids from sweating, which can quickly lead to exhaustion. Furthermore, dehydration actually makes hangovers worse. So by running home, not only will you not be preventing a hangover, you’ll likely be making it worse.
The idea that you can run off the effects of drinking is preposterous in itself. It’s not some sickness that can be removed by sweating out bad toxins. Remember, alcohol is broken down by the liver, and running won’t do anything to speed up that process.