Whatever your fitness goal, you are more likely to achieve it quickly if you don’t drink alcohol. That doesn’t mean you must abstain, but you need to be aware of what alcohol does to your body and take account of that during your exercise sessions.
You may have heard of “sweating out a hangover”. It’s a myth. Booze dehydrates you. So does exercise. Two plus two isn’t zero.
Your brain is 75% water, so even 2% dehydration can affect brain function dramatically. And you need to be thinking clearly. When you’re in the gym, you must decide if the weight is too heavy or if you need longer to rest. If you decide unwisely, you can hurt yourself. Alcohol-induced dehydration can also affect your motor skills, balance, and coordination.
It can be difficult enough to get yourself primed and ready to work out on regular days, but when you add in alcohol, you create an additional hurdle. Does anyone ever want to go to the gym with a hangover?
Decreased motivation extends beyond the workout itself. Because nutrition is such an important part of achieving results, the poor food choices we can make on the back of alcohol consumption can have a tremendous impact.
Alcohol causes metabolic issues on two fronts.
- Low blood sugar: alcohol can interfere with your metabolism by increasing insulin secretion. Increased insulin secretion leads to low blood sugar. As you need sugar in your bloodstream to provide energy to exercise, when alcohol is in your system, you can expect to feel sluggish while you work out.
- Prioritising an unwanted energy source: when you exercise, your body has a variety of energy sources available for fuel. The most desirable energy source is stored fat. When your liver processes alcohol, your body will have ethanol. Because ethanol is toxic in large quantities, your body will prioritise burning it as a fuel source instead of stored fat.
When you drink alcohol, your liver reduces glucose production, prioritising processing alcohol. Glucose is an energy source for exercise, and your workout quality will be reduced if you lack sufficient energy to complete it.
Quality recovery is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle and achieve health and fitness goals. Alcohol consumption reduces your time in deep sleep, meaning you spend more time in REM and lighter sleep cycles. This is significant because, during deep sleep, your body produces hormones that facilitate lean muscle development.
Time your workouts
You need to allow for alcohol to be fully processed before exercising. An important part of exercising with a health and fitness goal in mind is consistency. For this reason, if you plan to drink, allow yourself enough time to fully process the alcohol you’ve consumed before you hit the gym (i.e. 48-72 hours). Doing this, you’ll go to the gym ready to perform at your best, and this is how you’ll achieve your goals.
Try cutting out alcohol for a week
After taking a booze break, work out as usual and see how you feel. Afterwards, go back to your usual routine and compare the two weeks. Did you perform as well in the gym as usual? Do you feel better by not drinking alcohol or maintaining the status quo? If you feel better by not drinking alcohol, then maybe you’re onto something.
Sometimes, you may think you can avoid drinking alcohol regularly and still maximise your fitness efforts. But you can’t have it all.
If you’re working out regularly and eating healthily to achieve a result, alcohol can be the liability that holds you back. Give it a miss or cut it back considerably – you’ll see better results faster.
James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers.