Does Alcohol Affect Exercise?
And what can you do about it?
Does alcohol affect exercise well yes of course. However, many of us choose to ignore it.
Now there is a bit of a myth that goes on after the Great North Run which takes place in my former part of the world, the North East of England.
It’s a great event but it’s also customary to hit the pub afterwards and make the most of the celebratory win. Its said to refill the bodies resources!
Of course, I get it but what about drinking before or after exercise. I did a fair bit of research with my personal training colleagues before writing this article.
The answer is 100% not good news – sorry.
It simple not good for us. When I used to drink, I would head to the gym then afterward head to the pub afterwards and that alcohol would hit my system at full throttle.
After a gym work out alcohol would go straight to my head even if it was one glass of wine.
If you think about it’s probably the same as if you are on a low carb diet. Your system gets the full effect of the alcohol in your system and that’s when your metabolism will be working at full stretch!
Imagine a bit sieve with big holes rather then small ones letting all that alcohol go into your system. Or a rushing river rather than a stream.
That is what happens when you drink alcohol after going to the gym.
In fact, bizarrely when I left the gym I could hardly finish a glass of wine! It sometimes confuses me why I ended up with liver disease but that is where I am.
And not I am not saying drinking after or before exercise will give you liver disease but let’s look at why a personal trainer that I know say it is not a good idea.
Alcohol can alter your sports performance because it affects the body during exercise. It does this in several ways:
Alcohol dehydrates you. So if you are drinking straight after the gym, imagine all that sweat dripping from your body compounded by the alcohol going to your body. It is not a great combination.
We know lack of water in your body can restrict the best efforts of exercise. After all we are talking blood flow and your liver will focus on getting rid of any poisons first if there is alcohol in your system even from the night before.
It sees it as a priority.
It’s like nothing else matters.
As I have liver disease I have become a bit of an expert on the liver so even I know that its production of glucose is reduced after alcohol consumption. You become more tired and your body will fight that exercise machine or those weights like there is no tomorrow!
There is also the issue of brain fog which is caused by too much alcohol. It can cause memory loss and delayed reactions. Imagine your brain is full of hundreds, thousands and millions of neurons which are all linked together.
Now over use of alcohol even at a moderate level can cause our reaction to be reduced so in the gym this is not a great idea.
After all we are going for mobile agility are we not?
We know that if you have been drinking the night before your glucose level will be depleted and you’ll have a headache so the last thing the body needs is another pounding at the gym.
It will put you at a big disadvantage even for a park run.
I hate saying it but as much as alcohol has its social benefits it’s a poison and its used in everything from detergents to antifreeze as “ethanol” so yes its going to have a big impact on our bodies and exercise can be a good stress but it is stress!
However, it’s not just the exercise where alcohol can put us at a disadvantage
It will pile the weight on big time
I know one of my personal coaching clients always had this great story of her clients who would work really hard at the gym then head straight to the pub and have a pizza or a kebab on the way home.
Of course who did they blame?
You bet the personal trainer saying the exercise programme that had been assigned was just not working.
What’s the about ?
The reality of course is that these clients would be double the size if they had not been going to the gym and exercising. In fact, I would count myself in this category at one time or another but at least I admit it.
The reality is going to the gym alone will just not work. Its about what happens in the kitchen and in your social interaction. In fact the personal trainer I know says that most of the work is done outside the gym not in it!
I thought that was very honest of her to say that! If you think about it though it must be true!
I have talked a lot about this on the blog but alcohol and sugar are a killer when we get to the all important matter of keeping us healthy. If you break it down and look at it there are 7 calories in a gram.
Yep alcohol is high in calories: seven calories per gram.
The other thing to remember of course is that alcohol is empty calories with no nutritional benefits.
And as we have discussed when we have been drinking it dehydrates us which our brain mistakes for “I need food” so we eat more and not the good stuff either !
If you think about it, the first thing you do when you have a hangover is to have a fry up or even a kebab / pizza coming back from the pub.
Alcohol is not the only thing that inhibits the immune system.
Sleep I was astonished to learn is the only time that our body and whole system is fully making our immune system operate at optimum level. This is from one the UK’s top sleep experts.
Now as any good personal trainer knows your muscle heals during a period of rest and that includes sleep.
Makes sense right?
The thing is that many people think is that alcohol helps you drop off and that might be true. But as a sleep expert from Northumbria University in the UK told me once we when drop off we then go into a very disruptive pattern of sleep.
Now our healing only really happens when we are in the deepest of sleep and alcohol can stop this from happening.
Our hormones that the body needs for muscle repair and growth only really come into play when we are asleep.
This of course can hinder the healing of sport injuries such as after going for a run or even a simple workout at home.
So there is a lot of evidence that says drinking either before or after the gym is clearly not a good idea and alcohol can be very harmful in a gym environment never mind the lost hours of sleep!
What can I do to reduce my alcohol intake around exercise
Well first this is not a lecture and the fact, I have got liver disease from just social drinking is neither here nor there. This is about you get the most from your workout or even a daily walk.
I have checked with many personal trainers and they all agree that alcohol and exercise don’t really go together, especially at the same time. I did actually see this happen at a New York gym once and I had to look twice!
For many people alcoholic drinks and sharing a moment with our friends can be great for our mental health. So no-one is saying never drink at all and to be honest if it’s just a few then so there is no need to worry.
Know your limit from a website like drink aware for example.
Here are some of the things that have worked for many of the people who read this blog on a regular basis.
Consider going alcohol free.
The whole alcohol free market has come on leaps and bounds! I am talking taste here not always availability especially when you are out social unfortunately.
I have had to make the switch for health reasons but I know many people who have made the switch because they don’t want to drink, can’t or choose no to for whatever reason.
It’s also a growth market amongst younger people and it is growing roughly 23% per annum.
Those are impressive figures and clearly it means profits. Those companies will want to make great alcohol free brands but also the taste. There are many options that also fall into the vegan and gluten free category.
However, it has to taste good and this has been a key failing in the past. I emphasize the past here as it is moving and fast!
One of my favorite options is alcohol free gin and as long as you don’t add a sugar based mixer to it you are looking at zero calories and zero sugar. That is great news for my waist I don’t know about yours?
Whatever You do, don’t drink on an empty stomach !
Any good personal trainer will tell you carbs will help make sure fuel keeps heading into your muscles and body. Now without eating anything, any alcohol you drink will go straight into your system.
Think of it as building a wall before the alcohol, your muscles and your bloodstream.
Low carb and alcohol don’t go together in my opinion and you can read about can you drink on a keto diet here.
Even the NHS in the UK stay don’t drink on any empty stomach. Even if you’re drinking level is not serious the same rules apply really.
Drinking a mix of water and alcohol free drinks can really help pace yourself especially if you have a gym session planned the next day.
The good news is that alcohol is not good for stress but exercise is so the less you drink the better your mind and body health will be. After all, the body and mind are one system as any good personal trainer or coach will tell you.
It’s just not food that can help the effect on your training the next day. Switching between alcoholic drinks and alcohol free options can really help. It could also keep you hydrated.
I know many people who read the blog have found once they make the switch theory find themselves moving toward more alcohol free options including beer and wine rather than sticking with just alcohol.
It seems the mind is looking favorably on options as a recent Newcastle and Bristol University study in the UK discovered. So good news, your brain could be on your side!
I was really struck by what my liver consultant said about wine glasses in that they have gotten bigger over time so the social tide can really work against alcohol and exercise if we are not careful.
I think buying a large glass and “getting the bottle free promotion” says a lot about social pressure and that is just from the bar we are in let alone our friends and colleagues.
As they say you become who you hang around with. That includes alcohol I guess.
Social influence is very powerful so you have to be your own person.
It was the father of coaching Thomas Leonard who I met years ago who said that the most powerful way to make change is to create a structure. His best example which has nothing to do with alcohol was if you hate tidying then invite people around for dinner!
So if you know you have got to be at the gym for a committed exercise session or if you are running a marathon, be the person who offers to be the “home taxi”. It does not matter what you do, just create some structure that stops you from drinking alcohol.
Write a review for this blog on an alcoholic free drink and send it to me for a publication date the next day. Do something, do anything but create a structure. Your exercise routine will thank you for it!
Plan to do something productive the next day that really matters!
And of course we know the benefit of drinking plenty of water before you sleep but not so much that you have to stay up all night. It is always a fine balance.
Always know your limits and for more helpful information check out the drink aware website, it’s a great resource.
What do you think?
I would love to know what your experience is of alcohol and exercise. How do you balance it and what are your strategies? Do you know your exercise regime suffers if you have had a few days of drinking after work?
I would love to know your thoughts on does alcohol affect exercise and if you have ever tried balancing it with alcohol free options. Leave your message below and I always get back to you. I love reading your comments.