Does Alcohol Compromise Your Workout Gains?

One drink won't hurt, right?

There’s just something so appealing about rewarding yourself after a hard workout with a cold, refreshing drink. “C’mon, it’s happy hour!” says your reliable gym buddy. And you’ve earned it, after all. You can’t help but wonder, though - is this habit doing you any favors in the #gains department?

If you run a quick search regarding alcohol and its effects on your health, you’ll likely be bombarded with a plethora of results presenting conflicting information, leaving you more confused than before. It’s easy to write off alcohol as simply ‘bad’ or ‘good’, but the truth of the matter is it’s much more nuanced and complicated than that.

Today, we demystify all the sneaky ways alcohol affects your body and fitness journey. Here are some factors to consider before reaching for that next round.

It Parches Your Body

One of the biggest downsides of alcohol is that it’s a diuretic, causing your body to dehydrate faster. For obvious reasons, this is not ideal when trying to rehydrate after a sweaty gym session, not only because it will hinder your body from retaining the fluids you are giving it, but also because you might drink less water if you’re replacing it with an equally ‘quenching’ pint.

Furthermore, dehydration is the main culprit behind the notorious hangover, leading into our next point…

"That’s all drugs and alcohol do, they cut off your emotions in the end."

— Ringo Starr

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Booze Demotivates You

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing the dreaded hangover, you’ll know that working out is about the last thing you want to do the morning after a night of heavy drinking. The natural resistance is for good reason, as your body is craving H2O and rest, in other words, the opposite of sweating it out at the gym.

“If alcohol is in your system, your heart rate will increase faster than usual and your body’s temperature will significantly rise, making exercise uncomfortable” says Caroline Wilson, nutritionist at health and nutrition brand Kitchenistic. No, thank you. 

"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Alcohol = Empty Calories

Another grim reality that will knock the fun out of things is the fact that alcohol is quite calorie dense while providing zero nutritional value (boo). The general rule of thumb is that one drink will cost you somewhere between 100 and 200 calories, with the standard measurement of one drink equaling 5 oz wine, 12 oz beer, or 1.5 oz liquor.

As if that weren’t enough to deter you, the alcohol sugars can also wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels, sending them on a spike-and-crash roller coaster. While a mere annoyance to some, this can become a serious problem for those with hyper/hypoglycemia and diabetic conditions. 

"Sobriety was the greatest gift I ever gave myself."

— Rob Lowe

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OK In Small Doses?

This is all not to say you necessarily need to go cold turkey and cut alcohol out of your life completely. There’s even evidence to suggest that a small amount is better for you than none at all. Surprisingly, a study cited by Harvard Health Publishing found that among older adults, light drinking (in the range of one to four drinks per week) was associated with a slightly lower risk of death compared with zero consumption.

In addition, the popular notion that a glass of red wine a day is good for your heart might not be entirely bogus after all. “Wine helps prevent clots and reduce blood vessel inflammation, both of which have been linked to cognitive decline and heart disease”, explains Tedd Goldfinger, DO, of the University of Arizona School of Medicine.

All in all…

Unsurprisingly, it all boils down to these familiar words of wisdom: Everything in moderation. The occasional drink to unwind won’t become your demise.

But, making that post-gym drink or two an everyday crutch, or succumbing to a binge boozin’ session on the weekends, could very well be getting in the way of realizing your fitness goals. 

Thanks for reading, stay strong warrior.

Maggie Johnson | MME Wellness Contributor

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