Do you like to enjoy a cold one after a long day or during celebrations with friends?
But maybe you feel guilty because you don’t want to ruin all your hard work at the gym?
If so, you’re not alone.
A lot of people like to drink alcohol, especially during the weekend, so does that mean you have to choose between accomplishing your fitness goals or drinking?
Absolutely not! Don’t worry, you can still drink alcohol and stay fit!
In this blog post, we will discuss how alcohol can affect your muscles including the role of sleep in recovery and how alcohol impacts that.
Most importantly, we'll also talk about the fine line between accomplishing your fitness goals and drinking responsibly.
How Can Alcohol Affect Fitness Goals?
There are several important ways that alcohol can impact your fitness goals.
Excess (and Empty) Calories
Alcohol can have a lot of calories. Depending on what you're drinking, it could be as little as 100 calories and as much as 500 calories.
Heavy beers such as stouts and porters as well as sugar-based mixed drinks are going to pack the biggest caloric punch.
Shots with low-calorie or no-calorie mixers will be on the lower end with 100 calories.
If your goal is weight loss, drinking alcohol, especially in excess, can work against that goal.
Metabolism and Fat Gain
Continuing with the point above, alcohol can also slow down your metabolism, impeding with proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
This could lead to weight gain over time.
And most notably, you might see that weight gain in your stomach.
The simple sugars in alcohol tend to breakdown and contribute to fat storage in your belly, hence the term, “beer belly.”
Compromised Performance and Recovery
While you might feel great after a few drinks, alcohol is doing something else to your body:
It’s dehydrating it.
When you drink, the diuretic effect of alcohol causes increased urination, and this can lead to dehydration.
In fact, think about your last hangover. A hangover is primarily caused by dehydration.
This dehydration can potentially impact how well you train at the gym and recover after that workout.
It's important to note that how well you train is directly related to how well you recover. If your body isn’t fully recovered, it won't perform at 100%.
Read more about the importance of rest days here.
Now what about a drink post-workout? After a hard workout, your muscles are primed for growth and repair.
Consuming alcohol after a workout can impair that process.
This is because alcohol blocks the receptors in your muscles that help to transport protein to the site of damage.
Alcohol can also impact your sleep quality – the key to proper recovery – which we will talk about in a minute.
How to Balance Working Out and Drinking Alcohol
So how can you continue to enjoy a drink or two and still stay fit?
Drink in Moderation
It starts with how much alcohol you consume.
According to many experts, it’s okay to have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
But if you’re serious about your fitness goals, then we would recommend having a drink less than that.
With that said, do NOT binge over the weekend. You can’t “save up” your drink tally for one night.
That’ll be more detrimental than if you were to just have a drink each day.
If you are going to drink, make sure to have a tall glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage.
Keep this in mind: It’s not enough to chug tap water all day.
Your body needs electrolytes too. In fact, it’s a dramatic drop in electrolytes that causes many of the symptoms associated with dehydration.
Consider taking a Himalayan salt capsule or using an electrolyte supplement along with the water you’re drinking.
Don’t Forget to Eat
Eat something healthy before you drink. This will help with digestion.
And it will also help offset some of the negative impacts that alcohol has on your body.
Not sure what to eat? Check out our post on What to Eat Before a Workout and Why.
Schedule Your Drinking Around Your Workouts
Since alcohol can impact performance, we would recommend scheduling your drinking around your workouts, which are more important anyway.
It’s not that you can’t work out the next day after a night of drinking, but just remember that your body is still trying to recover from the alcohol.
Don’t expect to see elite athletic performance.
Now with that said, light exercise is absolutely encouraged because it’ll help your body’s natural detoxification process.
Alcohol’s Effects on Muscles
As mentioned above, alcohol can have a negative impact on how your body builds muscle and how you recover.
Muscle protein synthesis is an essential process for muscle hypertrophy and muscle building.
Resistance training followed by a whey protein supplement has been shown to spike protein synthesis.
On the flip side, studies show that alcohol can negatively impact the process of protein synthesis, which is essentially ruining all that hard work in the weight room.
Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Yes, alcohol does affect sleep. In fact, it's one of the biggest impacts that alcohol has on the body.
Alcohol can interfere with the quality and quantity of your sleep.
It's important to get a good night's sleep if you want to reach your fitness goals.
This is when the greatest amount of growth hormone is released in your body – between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. to be precise.
Alcohol has been shown to directly prevent you from entering the deepest levels of restorative sleep. It’s the reason you can sleep your day away and still feel like crap.
The way to minimize this impact is to avoid drinking before bedtime and, again, stay hydrated!
Should I Stop Drinking Alcohol to Reach My Fitness Goals?
While alcohol doesn’t help your fitness goals, you do not need to stop drinking alcohol to reach your fitness goals.
The good news is that you can drink and still stay fit. However, how much alcohol you consume will determine how big of an impact it has on your body.
One properly portioned drink per day won’t be enough to severely impair how well you recover or how well you sleep.
However, if you drink a lot more than that (or binge drink), then it might be time to consider cutting back on how much alcohol you consume per week.
Not only will this help with your fitness goals, but it will also improve how healthy your liver is and how well your body functions overall.
Quick Cheat Sheet for Drinking (When You Want to Get Fit)
- No more than one drink per day
- Don’t drink right after a workout
- Don’t drink right before bedtime
- Hydrate with electrolytes
- Eat a healthy meal before you drink