If you like to have a beer before you go for a run or down a shot before you head to the gym, you might reason that a slight buzz enhances your workout or gives you a little extra energy to power through. But drinking before your workout might prevent you from reaching your goals.
From dehydration and extra calories to safety risks and a decline in efficient energy production, there are plenty of reasons to reconsider the decision to drink before or after your workouts. Ultimately, alcohol is not likely to provide you with any significant gains in your performance, and it may make your workout more difficult.
One common effect of drinking alcohol is dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing you to urinate more and lose fluids. Since you will be losing fluids through sweat when you exercise, the additional water loss from drinking alcohol can exacerbate the dehydration your body is already experiencing.1
Further, researchers have found that post-workout beverages with at least 4% alcohol may delay recovery from dehydration by causing a person to urinate more in the hours after consuming the drink.2
Glucose, a sugar and important energy source, plays a role in exercise endurance.1 Studies have shown that alcohol can decrease the use of glucose and amino acids by skeletal muscles and impair metabolism during exercise.3 Alcohol intoxication can also inhibit exercise-induced rises in glucose concentration and decrease glucose during recovery from anaerobic exercise.1
Athletes who drink after working out have also been shown to have lower rates of protein synthesis compared to athletes who don’t drink. Protein synthesis increases muscle size and helps with muscle repair, which affects stamina and strength-building. However, researchers believe the relationship is dose-dependent, which means the inhibitory effects on protein synthesis are larger the more you drink.4
In addition, alcohol may make testosterone less available to your muscles over time, and testosterone also plays a role in muscle rebuilding and development.5
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Alcohol can affect your balance, reaction time, and fine motor skills, which could be dangerous when you are lifting heavy weights.1,4 Drinking too much could cause you to lose your balance and stumble or fall. This effect can become a serious safety problem in the gym.
Given that you need to be steady on your feet to maintain good form and stay safe while lifting weights, drinking alcohol beforehand is only going to increase the risk of injury.
Studies also suggest that you may be less motivated to push yourself during a workout if you’ve had a few drinks.4
Alcohol and Fat Loss
Another concern many exercisers have is weight control.
Consider the following calorie counts for these drinks, not including any mixers that might be used:6
- 1.5 ounces of whisky = 97 calories
- 1.5 ounces of vodka = 97 calories
- 1.5 ounces of gin = 97 calories
- 12 ounces of regular beer =153 calories
- 1.5 ounces of wine = 121–157 calories
The calories you consume from alcohol have little nutritional value and can impede your efforts to lose weight or control your weight.6
A study in the journal Appetite shows that alcohol can also lead to overeating, especially for people who tend to be impulsive, which can lead to weight gain as well.7
Given that most of the evidence points to alcohol being more of a hindrance to your fitness goals than a performance booster, you may be better off skipping drinks before and after your workout. There are many other options for enhanced energy and performance.
Water and sports drinks are good choices for hydration before a workout and rehydration during and after a workout. If you exercise regularly, eat a diet rich in proteins and carbohydrates that includes foods such as wholegrain bread and cereals, fruit, beans, fish, eggs, cheese, lean meats, and chicken. Carbohydrates provide energy, while protein helps to build muscle and can also be used for energy.8
. Vella, L. and Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781-789.
. Shirreffs, S. and Maughan, R. (1997). Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83(4), 1152-1158.
. El-Sayed, M.S., Ali, N., and El-Sayed, A.Z. (2005). Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. Sports Medicine, 35(3), 257-269.
. Heid, M. (2016). You Asked: Can I Exercise After Drinking Alcohol? Time.
. Chodosh, S. (2018). That beer after your workout probably isn’t helping you. Popular Science.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. (2018). Calorie count – Alcoholic beverages.
. Kase, C., Piers, A., Schaumberg, K., Forman, E., and Butryn, M. (2017). The relationship of alcohol use to weight loss in the context of behavioral weight loss treatment. Appetite, 99, 105-111.
. National Health Service. (2017). Eat well.