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Alcohol and Fitness: What You Need to Know

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 6/02/2022

Drinking alcohol has many effects on the body. While alcohol is known for being dangerous to consume in large quantities, its interaction with general health and fitness is often ignored. However, abusing alcohol leads to a decline in physical and mental fitness. It can also cause many negative health effects that cause people to gain weight because of excess calories. Alcohol interacts negatively with personal fitness because it places strain on the body. It can decrease muscle recovery, damage organs, and make someone less likely to exercise and more likely to crave unhealthy food. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Fitness?

Alcohol affects fitness in many ways. It causes numerous symptoms that impair coordination, respiratory function, balance, recovery time, and hand-eye coordination. Alcohol is also a diuretic that increases the risk of dehydration, even if someone is trying to stay hydrated. Consuming large quantities of alcohol before an athletic event typically results in reduced performance, more fatigue, and less coordination. On the other hand, alcohol should be avoided right after exercise too. Drinking alcohol after exercise impairs recovery time because it can block muscles from getting the nutrients they need to grow.

1. Dehydration

Frequent urination and sweating are a bad combination when it comes to dehydration. Alcohol makes you pee frequently because it’s a diuretic and exercising makes you sweat because the body needs to cool down during physical activity. When frequent urination and sweating are combined dehydration increases rapidly. While dehydration is bad for your health it’s also bad for athletic performance.

If someone is dehydrated there’s a good chance there will be many symptoms. Some examples include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. Furthermore, physical activity can lead to a hangover happening rapidly. With a hangover, playing sports or exercising is a daunting task. It’s always important to note that dehydration is a big health risk and should be treated as such. While it can reduce athletic performance it can also lead to death and other serious health problems.

2. Muscle fatigue

Muscle fatigue is impacted by alcohol consumption. According to a few studies, alcohol can increase muscle fatigue when consumed up to 24 hours before exercise. While activities like weight lifting are not as impacted by muscle fatigue, cardio-intensive sports can create large amounts of lactic acid in the muscles. Because alcohol also increases lactic acid in the body, drinking alcohol before exercising results in more fatigue.

Muscle fatigue can also be the result of a hangover. If an individual had too much to drink the night before a sporting event, they’ll have more fatigue than the other players. Their performance will also decline because alcohol impacts the mind and muscles. Alcohol can also increase aerobic fatigue, which leads to feeling winded and out of breath faster. Therefore, it’s best to not consume alcohol before exercise because it makes the muscle reach fatigue faster.

3. Performance

Drinking alcohol during an athletic event or workout session reduces performance. When alcohol is consumed before exercise the body has a harder time accessing glycogen, which is what the body uses as a primary energy source. In fact, consuming one glass of wine before a long run is enough to cause a decline in performance. 

According to many studies, performance declines caused by alcohol can last for up to 72 hours. For example, alcohol’s sedative effects can slow an athlete’s reaction time for up to 72 hours. Alcohol also reduces the body to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is required for optimum performance. Its effect on ATP production can last for up to 48 hours. Alcohol can also cause muscle cramps because it increases the amount of lactic acid in the body.

4. Metabolism

Alcohol causes several changes to metabolism. Some research from the 1990s suggests that alcohol increases metabolic rate, which leads to more fat and carbohydrates being used as fuel. While alcohol does increase metabolic rate in situations like binge drinking, this is not the case for people who abuse alcohol for long periods. Plus, most of the metabolism increases are offset by the rapid consumption of calories contained in alcoholic beverages or the foods that people eat when drunk.

Over the long term, alcohol negatively impacts metabolism. Abusing alcohol for many years can lead to conditions like fatty liver disease, which is the deposit of fat on the liver. When this occurs, the body changes the way fats and carbohydrates are stored. Ultimately, it makes it harder to metabolize fats and carbohydrates, which leads to difficulties with weight loss and liver function. In most cases, alcohol harms metabolism when abused for many years. Unfortunately, conditions like fatty liver disease are not always reversible.

5. Unhealthy cravings

Unhealthy cravings can impact physical fitness in many ways. If the cravings cause someone to consume more alcohol or drugs, physical performance will decline. In fact, having an alcohol addiction can lead to a serious decline in reaction time, muscle performance, and more fatigue. Unhealthy cravings for other drugs can also decrease athletic performance. That said, unhealthy cravings for some foods can also lead to a decline in fitness.

If someone consumes too much food and begins to gain weight, it’s harder for the body to remain healthy. Unhealthy cravings that alcohol causes can create a caloric surplus that leads to weight gain. Alcohol also increases cravings for calorie-dense foods like cake, cookies, fast food, and fried foods.

What Are the Health Risks of Alcohol After a Workout?

When working out muscle tears are created. Muscle tears are normal because they’re necessary for muscle to grow. In fact, muscle tears are needed for the muscle to grow and develop. To repair muscle tears, the body produces a hormone called human growth hormone (HGH). HGH is responsible for growth in many parts of the body but is most well-known for its attributions to muscle growth.

Human growth hormone is produced naturally after working out. However, consuming alcohol prevents the body from producing human growth hormones. If human growth hormone is limited muscle repair takes longer and soreness remains for longer periods. Additionally, muscle growth will be limited because muscles won’t get the nutrients they need. Instead of protein reaching the muscles, alcohol fills them instead. Ultimately, this can hinder healthy muscle growth.

Alcohol is also known to decrease testosterone production. In males, testosterone is produced to enhance muscle growth, lower body fat, and maintain mental health. Alcohol limits testosterone production by causing the body to produce a different hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and it limits testosterone production and damages muscle growth.

For these reasons, consuming alcohol after working out is never a good idea. While it won’t kill you, it can make workouts feel less effective and hinder your progress. Primarily, alcohol consumption after working out reduces muscle protein synthesis and increases the production of stress chemicals.

What Alcohol Can You Drink While Working Out?

You can’t drink alcoholic beverages while working out. While drinking a beer or two won’t ruin your workout, it has no benefits to the workout. In fact, alcohol consumption during a workout will cause fatigue to set in faster. This is because alcohol increases the rate at which lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid is what causes cramps during cardiovascular exercise.

That said, there are some beverages similar to alcohol that you can drink during exercise. If you must consume beer, wine, or spirits, we recommend consuming non-alcoholic versions of them. Doing so will prevent the onset of fatigue during exercise.

Is Drinking Alcohol After a Workout Bad for You?

Yes, drinking alcohol after a workout is bad for you. While it doesn’t physically harm you, it harms your muscle growth and recovery. Consuming alcohol increases the production of cortisol, which limits testosterone and human growth hormone. In both men and women alcohol has been shown to reduce muscle protein synthesis (MPS) by up to 35%. Some studies suggest that MPS can be reduced by up to 40%. 

Based on this data, it won’t harm you but alcohol consumption after working out can make you feel sore for longer periods. It also limits the production of essential hormones for muscle growth.

Does Alcohol Affect Men and Women Differently in terms of Fitness?

Yes, alcohol affects men and women differently in terms of fitness. While alcohol doesn’t have significant changes for males and females, it impacts males more because it limits the production of testosterone. Testosterone is more abundant in men and aids with muscle growth. 

Men who consume alcohol after working out will have less testosterone to improve their muscles because more cortisol is produced. Alcohol has similar effects on estrogen, which is more prevalent in women. However, estrogen doesn’t impact physical fitness as much as testosterone. More research is needed in this area but based on the available evidence of alcohol’s interaction with testosterone it’s clear that men can have a reduction in performance if alcohol is abused.

Can You Take Alcohol with Fitness Supplements?

No, you should not take alcohol with fitness supplements. Fitness supplements like pre-workout have effects that increase heart rate. When these supplements are mixed with a depressant like alcohol it can lead to adverse health effects. Many fitness supplements also contain caffeine, which is a diuretic and stimulant. Combining fitness supplements that have caffeine can amplify alcohol’s diuretic effects and lead to dehydration. For these reasons, alcohol should not be consumed with fitness supplements that have stimulating properties.

Alcohol can be consumed with protein powders and other types of fitness supplements but we recommend against it. Consuming alcohol with these supplements can reduce their effectiveness and limit muscle growth and recovery.

What are the Other Effects of Alcohol?

Alcohol is a dangerous substance. When abused, it causes people to struggle with health issues. In the short term, people can experience issues with memory and physical discomfort. Additionally, people can struggle to walk and suffer from alcohol poisoning if too much alcohol is consumed in a short period. 

On the other hand, long-term alcohol abuse becomes an addiction and a dangerous condition. People can experience symptoms of withdrawal, liver damage, brain damage, and damage to relationships. Many of the effects of alcohol abuse can be reversed if the condition is dealt with sooner rather than later. If you or a loved one needs treatment for alcoholism we recommend getting help as soon as possible.