I like to have a few drinks before hitting the gym. It helps me relax after work, but is alcohol hindering my workout?
First, studies have found that drinking before working out hinders the circulation of glucose – which the body uses for energy. If you have less energy during your workout, you’re not going to be working at your full potential – and your results will suffer. It also results in a decrease in blood glucose levels after working out; glucose is important for muscle recovery.
Second, it’s dangerous. Even small amounts of alcohol can impair judgment and coordination. Add hundreds of pounds of weight plates into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster.
Third, though drinking doesn’t accelerate the negative effects of cortisol – it does prolong these effects, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology. The stress hormone cortisol has a catabolic effect on your muscles and thus can negatively affect your strength and size gains.
Fourth, alcohol hinders protein synthesis. By slowing the production of muscle proteins needed to grow you muscles, you also slow the gains you’re making at the gym.
Fifth, you’re more likely to become dehydrated. Alcohol is a strong diuretic (i.e., it makes you pee…), and dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can result. This can negatively impact your performances, and – in extreme cases – even result in death.
Sixth, there are a whole slew of other, less-immediate but still negative impacts from alcohol consumption.
- Decreases in testosterone. While there is still some debate on the effects of naturally-occurring testosterone levels on muscle growth, we do know what binge drinking can lower testosterone levels.
- Increases in body fat. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, and those drinks can really add up. These calories are considered empty calories – much like drinking a can of soda – because they don’t provide nutrients that the body can use.
- Health problems. Alcohol consumption can cause liver damage, heartburn, ulcer development and other health complications. Longer term, chronic drinking may lead to impotency, liver failure, vitamin deficiencies, pancreatitis, and other conditions.
But it’s not all bad news. At least one study found that, despite all the complications resulting from alcohol, drinkers tend to live longer. Maybe it’s all those antioxidants in wine.
The bottom line: If you do want to consume alcohol, drink occasionally and always in moderation – but never before working out.