Alcohol And Fitness
Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go: you should not train while drunk. It’s dangerous to work out when your reactions are slowed and your co-ordination dulled – particularly if you’re using weights or machinery! Even going for a run could result in you falling over and hurting yourself! So restrict your boozy workouts to flailing about on the dancefloor – no matter the intensity of your sudden drunk-guilt about the pizza you ate earlier. So don’t drink and train. This (fairly obvious) proviso aside, however, what is the general consensus on alcohol and fitness? How much do you have to drink before it starts impacting upon your fitness regime? And can it ever be good for you?
In general, the answer is that you should avoid alcohol as much as possible if you want to be fit. Although there is a complex relationship between heavy drinking and body weight, it’s worth noting that alcohol contains an awful lot of empty calories. It can’t be stored as energy in the muscles, so the body immediately turns it into fat. If you are working out for weight loss, you may well find the fat frustratingly hard to shift if you’re drinking more than a few units a week. What is more, alcohol can inhibit your body’s mechanisms for metabolising carbohydrates. This not only makes your workout seem a lot tougher (as your muscles are struggling for fuel), but it minimizes the amount of fat you’ll use up during that workout. Not to mention the fact that alcohol dehydrates you. Even if you’re heading to the gym some days after drinking alcohol, if you haven’t replenished lost fluids adequately, you’re going to suffer. So not only is alcohol nutritionally void itself, it can also hinder your body’s methods of working with other forms of nutrition and hydration. Best avoided altogether in the days leading up to your training session.
Inhibits Your Progress
Not only is alcohol bad for fat loss, it’s also bad for muscle gain. How? Well, rat studies and even tentative studies on humans have shown that alcohol can slow or even halt protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the mechanism by which your body repairs damaged muscles. When you work out, you cause micro-tears in your muscle fibers. In order to fix the damage, your body synthesises protein to replace the torn strands. In order to strengthen the muscle and prevent the injury from happening again, it tends to lay down more fibers than were initially there. This is how muscles grow. Too much drinking will hinder this process. Don’t believe us? Have a strenuous workout, wake up with sore muscles, and go out drinking. We’re willing to bet that your muscles are just as sore (as well as your head, potentially!) when you wake up the next morning. Then try the same without the drinking. You’ll notice a tangible improvement in your muscle-pain on the second night after working without alcohol, which simply wasn’t there when you drank. This is because your body has been able to heal and build upon the damage while you were not drinking in a manner which it could not achieve while you had alcohol in your system.
So, alcohol stops you losing fat, makes your workouts harder, and prevents you from building muscle. And we haven’t even gone into all of the other scary, bad stuff which drinking too much can do to you (your liver is very important! Don’t mess it up!). However, there is some evidence to suggest that moderate drinking can be good for your fitness levels. Before you ignore all of our previous advice and rush to the bar, let it be noted that ‘moderate drinking’ probably means way less drinking than you think. It basically amounts to a couple of glasses of wine per week, or four pints spread out over seven days. Not enough to get you really drunk, not even if consumed all in one evening (well, not enough for most of us, anyway!). However, if you can stick to this spartan amount, then there MAY (although medical opinion is divided upon this!) be some benefits to reap. Some studies suggest that your cardiovascular system may be improved by the ingestion of resveratrol – an antioxidant found in red wine. Furthermore, those who maintain a moderate alcohol intake tend to live longer than those who are teetotal. There are probably more factors than simple physical fitness at play here – but it’s worth paying attention to this nonetheless! However, we cannot stress enough just how limited a ‘moderate’ alcohol intake is. Go over the ‘moderate’ limit, and the negatives quickly and catastrophically begin to outweigh the positives!