Is It Safe to Exercise After Drinking Alcohol?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on December 18, 2019

You can be a real stickler to your diet and exercise, but once happy hour strikes you can’t help but have a drink or two. This makes you wonder, is it safe to work out after drinking alcohol?

Some people want to squeeze in some workout time after sipping on a few drinks immediately after work.  All in the hopes to get rid of the additional calories they just recently introduced to their system. Or maybe, it is the other way around. Some people might prefer to hit the gym before hitting the bar to grab some drinks with their friends at the end of a tiring week. However, do you think these are good ideas?

Well, studies show it’s not ideal. Working out before and after introducing alcohol in your system simply does not produce the expected results. Here are a few reasons why all backed up by science.

Why You Shouldn’t Workout When Intoxicated?

1. Alcohol Has A Negative Impact On Protein Synthesis

According to one study, it is an unhelpful workout partner. A study in 2014 with athletes as participants showed that those who took a few drinks experienced having lower protein synthesis rates in comparison to those who did not drink any alcoholic beverages after doing a couple of exercises  (1). The rate of protein synthesis determines the increase in muscle size and helps out with muscle repair of the body. These two are really important to develop muscle strength and stamina after workouts. Understandably, you can assume that the results are going to be the same because they are two isolated events. But, your body responds to the alcohol that enters your system and it affects your body when you work out.

2. Alcohol Inhibits Glycolysis

Your body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates. Glycolysis is the main process involved in converting these carbohydrates to energy. Unfortunately, with alcohol in your bloodstream, the ability of your muscles to use glucose becomes limited. One study showed that an alcoholic beverage can decrease your energy level and performance not only when working out, but also when doing other tasks related to endurance (2). 

3. Alcohol Can Lead to Weight Gain

Any beverages spiked with alcohol can increase your calorie intake without nourishing your body (3). Those people who want to lose weight should try to limit their drinking habits. While occasional drinking is sometimes unavoidable, frequent drinking should be managed by those who are too conscious of their weight. When losing weight, it should be done in a slow but smooth rate. Losing a half pounds up to two pounds a week is considered a healthy way to lower down the numbers when you weigh yourself. To achieve losing at least a pound in one week, you should consume fewer calories than what your body is utilizing. Empty calories, such as alcoholic drinks, should be avoided to have a steady weight loss rate.

Furthermore, alcohol can change hormone levels and decrease the rate of metabolism. When this happens, the body will be unable to get rid of excess body fat. There are also other factors involved in how a person gains weight after drinking alcohol such as gender, drinking pattern, type of alcohol consumed, and frequency of intake (4). According to this study, the link between weight gain and drinking alcohol is a lot more evident in men than women (5). 

4. Alcohol Affects How Your Skeletal Muscles Recover

Aside from protein synthesis, alcohol can change the normal function of immunoendocrine glands. Chronic alcoholism can induce wasting of muscles (6). A study where ethanol was given to rats consistently on the course of 8 weeks resulted to a lower amount of Immunoglobulin Factor I (IGH-I) in their plasma, liver, and skeletal muscles in comparison to the control group. IGF-I is a powerful anabolic agent that helps in the regulation of muscle protein balance. An alteration in its level may cause muscle wasting, especially when accompanied by chronic alcohol consumption (7). 

5. Alcohol Can Weaken Your Motor Skills

Aside from having a direct connection with your muscle strengthening and bulking, alcohol can impair the intensity and quality of your sessions at the gym. Going to the gym after consuming a few bottles of beer can lead to a lower psychomotor performance. If you have never been a little tipsy in your life, you may have seen a couple of friends who have. It is almost like teaching a baby how to walk. If your motor skills are weakened, there is a definite chance that you cannot perform as well as you should. 

Certain types of exercise may even be deemed unsafe to perform. Weightlifting is such a risky physical activity even without alcohol in the body, how much more if there is? A study showed that people who do CrossFit get more injuries resulting from their improper form (8). In one study, heavy drinkers seem to see themselves more capable of getting things done compared to light drinkers (9). This wrong perception can lead to multiple catastrophes.

6. Alcohol Can Demotivate You While Working Out

It is hard to stay motivated when you have an altered perception of things. Too much alcohol has an effect on the brain. Even if you have the willpower to workout after hanging out with your friends, your performance at the gym is unlikely to draw a round of applause. Forcing yourself to successfully pull off all your intended exercises for the day will be challenging, especially if the intensity of each seem to be magnified when you drink. Even just catching a whiff of alcohol can inhibit one’s willpower. (10).  

According to one study, alcoholism is thought of as an imbalance between two different but related neural registers that affect decision making leading to impulsive behavior and a decrease in willpower – the amygdala system and prefrontal cortex. Amygdala signals the mind for immediate pain or pleasure, while the prefrontal cortex signals the mind for potential pain or pleasure (11). People who are diagnosed with alcoholism seem to exhibit the interaction between cognitive factors, decreased executive functions, and unnatural effective processing. All of these can lead to the weakening of willpower (12).

Studies show that alcohol and exercise seem to be two of the most common interests of regular people. Those who work out regularly seem to also drink regularly, according to certain research (13). In fact, this research is the first one to provide evidence of the link between physical activity and alcohol consumption in one adult’s lifespan. This is based on the consumption of beer which is uniform throughout the week, with a slight increase during social events on weekends. People seem to have drunk more than normal on days that they increased their physical activities.

The US Department of Health and Human Services highly recommends decreasing the use of alcohol and getting more exercise done (14). Both physical activity and alcohol elicit similar self-indulging benefits. This is the reason why it has been considered as a possible supplementary treatment for those who are undergoing therapy for alcohol addiction (15).

There are also some factors that come into play in the relationship between exercise and physical activity. In younger people, those who are into sports are also exposed to a circle of friends who like social events and enjoy experimenting with different activities such as drinking. Peer pressure can stimulate curiosity and open up doors to new behaviors (16).

Working Out After Drinking Up

While avoiding alcohol is a good idea, it is a difficult feat to do these days. The societal pressure and fear of missing out can get the best of you. There is no reason to skip your workout after a night of partying. In those days that you succumb to drinking, you can do a couple of things to still push through with your workout schedule. Your hard work will bear fruit so long as you follow these tips:

1. Drink Water

Keeping yourself hydrated is important, even if there is no alcohol in your system. Staying fully loaded with water can help in more ways than one. First, you must know how your body reacts to alcohol. Aside from feeling extra ecstatic on simple things for no apparent reason, alcohol can also promote inflammation of the immune system. It is also a known diuretic, which means it will have you taking frequent bathroom trips. To avoid electrolyte imbalance, drink up a lot of water before sleeping (around two bottles of water, if possible!) and upon waking up. 

2. Eat Even If You Are Not That Hungry

Because of the inflammatory response to alcohol, you will notice a decrease in appetite. But instead of hitting the gym sans food in your belly, you need to try loading up on energy-rich foods. Otherwise, you will not be in full capacity to finish your workout. If you have amino acid supplements, you should take two of them and ibuprofen before hitting the sack. Unfortunately, after a night of happenings, not everyone is in his or her proper mind to prepare for tomorrow’s workout. In situations such as this, eat a banana and other protein-rich foods like eggs before going to the gym. 

3. Choose to Work Out Early in the Morning

Fight the urge to sleep in after a night out. Sure, it is hard to get a jump on things when your head hurts, but busting out of bed and working out can release some endorphins that can keep you energized for the rest of the day. Alcohol is considered a depressant. It lowers the body’s serotonin, our happy hormone. Instead of giving in to your food cravings, get dressed and take yourself for a run around the block. You already gave in to an unhealthy habit last night, grabbing a burger and fries meal today will be unfair to your body. Once you exercise, you will start noticing your cravings getting washed away. You will also notice reduced moodiness, sharpened mind, and a generally happy disposition after you exercise.

4. Be Positive About It

The truth is, forcing yourself to wake and making a beeline to the gym is not gonna be easy as one, two, three. Start by just moving and begin with a light workout and a few stretches. Once you get a feel of your capacity for the day, strive to push harder or just settle with some light workouts. Both are fine, so long as you continue doing them. Do not give in to the tiredness.

It is important to try your best in these workouts. Refrain from just going along with the movement and not exerting too much effort. Do not just exercise for the sake of doing it. 

How Physical Activities and Moderate Alcohol Intake Seem to Go Together

Some studies show that exercise and physical activities are positively related (17). While drinking alcohol in between training sessions is frowned upon, some studies seem to suggest otherwise. As cited earlier, the two are almost always included in a typical millennial lifestyle.

People with moderate alcohol intake seem to live longer than the chronic drinkers and light drinkers. Drinking moderately seem to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases (18). A lot of studies indicate that people who are fit are also likely to drink in moderation (19). A moderate dose of alcohol also helps lower anxiety. 

Both alcohol and exercise affect the brain chemicals, with some overlapping. This is why people who are not completely dependent on just drinking alcohol or just doing some exercises find it fulfilling to engage in both activities moderately and regularly.

Why Should You Still Workout After Drinking?

Maintaining a physically active lifestyle will bear more beneficial results if you do an alcohol break every week or up to a few weeks whenever you can. When you workout, you counterbalance some of the negative effects that resulted from unhealthy vices and practices. Without working out, living a sedentary lifestyle and binge-drinking is chaos waiting to happen.

Key Takeaway

It is a good idea to break free from alcohol for some time if you cannot completely step away from it. Alcohol has a negative effect on muscle recovery, performance, motivation, willpower, and mobility. But, it does not mean you should give up on working out. By hydrating, eating properly, working out at an early hour, and exhibiting a dash of positivity, you can exercise and reap results for working out despite drinking alcohol regularly.  A moderate intake of alcohol is the best way to go. Avoid binge-drinking at all costs.

References: 

  1. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088384
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-014-0192-8
  3. https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/tools/calculators/calorie-calculator.aspx
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338356/
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938410000259
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18034690/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9660307/
  8. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2325967114531177
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2764986/
  10. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-016-4221-1#enumeration
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16251988/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136191/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4362843/
  14. https://www.healthypeople.gov/
  15. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0735-7028.34.1.49
  16. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0743558401165002
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629692/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8198232/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19750956/

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