If you crave a few drinks on occasion, but love your exercise routine too, you might be wondering: How does alcohol affect workouts? And what about fitness as a whole? Is alcohol and working out a bad combination?
The truth is that alcohol can fit into a physically active lifestyle when used in moderation. But too much alcohol can be an obstacle to your fitness goals and overall well-being.
When it comes to drinking and working out, here’s what you should know:
How Drinking Affects Your Body—and Why It Matters When It Comes to Exercise
Firstly, as a diuretic, alcohol dehydrates your body. And as you may know, proper hydration is key for optimal performance in the gym.
Drinking can also affect your heart rate, blood pressure, hand-eye coordination, and balance. Due to its sedative properties, alcohol might cause you to feel drowsy and lethargic. And long-term, frequent drinking can also increase your risk of liver disease, heart problems, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
With this in mind, alcohol and working out don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. Timing when you drink (as well as paying attention to how much and how often you drink) can help you get the most out of your fitness routine.
What Happens If You Drink Before Working Out?
After happy hour, you may want to hit the gym for a post-work workout. But drinking and working out means you may not reap the full benefits of your training sessions. Certain exercises could even become dangerous if you’ve had too much to drink beforehand.
Your Coordination and Balance Could Suffer
When it comes to weight training, balance and form are essential for preventing injury. With alcohol impairing your coordination, you could be putting your body at risk.
If you’ve consumed alcohol before a workout, you’re better off waiting until you’re sober to hit the gym.
Alcohol May Cause Fatigue
Alcohol acts as a depressant on your central nervous system. Effects of alcohol can therefore include lethargy and drowsiness. This makes powering through your workout more difficult. And if you do get through it, it may take more effort than usual.
What About Pre-Workout and Alcohol?
Many people take “pre-workout” supplements before exercising to boost their performance in the gym. These can be very stimulating, and are often packed with caffeine and other energy-boosting ingredients.
Mixing pre-workout supplements and alcohol might mask the effects of drinking. This could lead you to drink excessively, not realizing how much booze you’ve already consumed, or to misjudge your sobriety and coordination. All in all, it’s best not to combine the two.
What About Having a Drink Afterwards?
For some, reaching for a drink after a grueling gym session might feel like a well-deserved reward. So, what about drinking after a workout?
Alcohol Could Impair Muscle Recovery
So while it may feel like a drink or two isn’t hindering your progress in the gym, it could cause negative effects later on.
Drinking Alcohol After a Workout Makes It Harder to Rehydrate
In one clinical trial, consuming drinks containing 4 percent alcohol after a workout made it harder for participants to recover from dehydration. This makes sense, considering that alcohol is generally dehydrating to the human body.
Since your system needs to stay hydrated for your muscles to rebuild themselves efficiently, this is another reason to avoid drinking alcohol after a workout.
How an Alcohol-Heavy Lifestyle Affects Overall Fitness
So, does alcohol ruin your workout? What about your fitness routine as a whole?
Having a drink once in a while isn’t going to cause your fitness goals to crash and burn. However, long-term, regular drinking is a different story. Chronic alcohol use is associated with poor overall health—meaning you won’t get as many benefits as you could from your workout routine.
Drinking Can Lead to Weight Gain
Alcoholic beverages tend to contain many empty calories, so drinking too often can add significantly to your overall calorie count. Over time, this can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Alcohol Is Associated with Poor Diet Choices
On the days that you drink, you may be more likely to make poor dietary choices. And no matter how far you are into your fitness journey, proper nutrition is key for reaching your goals.
Heavy Drinking Can Make It Harder to Stick to Your Workout Routine
As mentioned above, alcohol can make you more lethargic while you are drinking it.
Then, there’s the dreaded hangover. Picture waking up feeling parched and nauseous, with a pounding headache; chances are hitting the gym is the last thing on your mind. Alcohol can make it harder to keep a regular workout schedule.
Too Much Alcohol May Diminish Muscle Strength
One longitudinal study from 2019 found a link between high alcohol consumption and a significant decline in muscle strength over a two-year period. Keeping your alcohol consumption to moderate levels may help support and protect your muscles.
Alcohol and Working Out: The Takeaway
To summarize, it’s best to avoid drinking before your workouts, and keep in mind how often you’re drinking afterwards. Your body (and fitness routine) will thank you.
If you struggle with alcohol use and could use some extra help, the good news is there are now online options that won’t disrupt your busy schedule.
Ria Health offers access to prescription medication, coaching support, handy digital tools, and more—all from an app on your phone. You set your own personal goals, and we’ll help you get there.
- Sullivan E. et al. Alcohol’s Effects on Brain and Behavior. Alcohol Res Health. 2010; 33(1-2): 127–143. Accessed December 27, 2020
- Shirreffs, S. & Maughan, R. The effect of alcohol on athletic performance. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2006 Jun; 5(4): 192-6. Accessed December 27, 2020
- Parr, E. et al. Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLoS One. 2014; 9(2): e88384. Accessed December 27, 2020
- Shirreffs, S. & Maughan, R. Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1997 Oct; 83(4): 1152-8. Accessed December 27, 2020
- Rehm, J. The Risks Associated with Alcohol Use and Alcoholism. Alcohol Res Health. 2011; 34(2): 135–143. Accessed December 27, 2020
- Brelow, R. et al. Diets of drinkers on drinking and nondrinking days. NHANES 2003–2008. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 May; 97(5): 1068–1075. Accessed December 27, 2020
- Cui, Y. et al. The longitudinal association between alcohol consumption and muscle strength: A population-based prospective study. 2019 Sep 1; 19(3): 294-299. Accessed December 28, 2020
- Simon, L. et al. Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications. Alcohol Res. 2017; 38(2): 207–217. Accessed December 28, 2020
- Harvard Health. Sorting out the health effects of alcohol. Accessed December 28, 2020