To drink or not to drink—that is a question that has surely plagued the mind of anyone who’s on the path to fitness. It’s a valid debate to have too! While the ill effects of excess alcohol are no secret, occasionally consuming it in social settings is common and almost unavoidable.
So if you’re someone who’s ever wondered if that weekend drink is going to deter your healthy lifestyle, we’re here to help you decode the science, so you can decide for yourself.
Effects of Drinking Alcohol on your Fitness Goals
If weight loss is your ultimate fitness objective, there are several factors about drinking alcohol that you may want to consider:
- The calories: Like any other drink, alcohol contains calories. Most of these calories are what we call “empty calories”, i.e., calories that add no nutritional value. This means that you’re consuming extra calories that may put you on a calorie surplus
- Impact on your liver: It’s no secret that alcohol makes our livers work overtime. This can lead to poor metabolism, slowing down the processing of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in our body
- Excess belly fat: Drinking calorie-heavy alcohol beverages like beer may cause our bodies to store extra fat, leading to quicker weight gain
- Food-related decisions: As alcohol impairs our decision-making when we’re “under the influence”, we may find ourselves making not-so-wise food choices
Muscle growth and building
Building muscle is one of the cornerstones of fitness, be it for gaining strength or shredding kilos. Consuming alcohol consumption may interfere in this process too:
- Protein synthesis: Proteins play a very important role in building muscles. Our body stimulates the synthesis of protein in order to repair and build muscles post-workout. Alcohol has been shown to interfere with this protein-synthesising process.
- Slower recovery: When we train, we’re essentially putting our muscles to work. This, in turn, causes micro-tears in our muscles. These tears then recover, helping us adapt to any future exertions on them. Because alcohol consumption impairs protein synthesis, it may also slow down our muscle recovery process
- Dehydration: This is yet another cause for slow muscle recovery. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes our body to pass more urine, leading to dehydration. And a lack of fluids in our body can decrease the blood flow to our muscles, further slowing down the process of muscle recovery
Metabolism refers to all the chemical reactions in our cells that convert food into energy. This process is essential to keep us functioning at all times.
Unlike other food sources that we consume, alcohol cannot be stored by our bodies. So when we drink, our digestive system—the liver in particular—gives first preference to process alcohol over other non-alcoholic sources of energy we have consumed. This puts our regular digestive functioning on hold, slowing down our metabolism.
Moreover, when we exercise, our muscle cells demand more energy. But because alcohol consumption decreases the use of glucose and amino acids, our muscles may not efficiently get the fuel they need.
Also Read : Busting Myths on Metabolism
The balancing act
While the effects of alcohol may seem very concerning, here’s the good news: You can still do it in moderation and exercise. And if you’re looking for ways to minimise the damage of alcohol on your body, try these tips:
It’s an age-old trick to avoid a hangover—and it has other benefits too! Drinking water in between drinks can counter the diuretic effects caused by alcohol. While you still may have to visit the bathroom one too many times, it will rehydrate you
Keep a long time gap between drinks and exercise
Drinking immediately before or after your workouts can affect your rate of recovery. While drinking before a workout may impair your motor skills, drinking right after a workout may not give your body the nutrients it needs to recover. So if you’re planning a night out, we’d recommend you plan your workouts so that there is at least a two-hour gap between the two.
Eat before you drink
Another time-tested practice that can combat the effects of alcohol. Eating food before you drink can slow down the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol. It may also help you make better food choices after you drink!
Pace your drinks
Your liver can process approximately 25 ml of alcohol per hour. So take things slow when you drink—it will give your body more time to process it.
Choose your drink wisely
Which alcohol is good for health? - Well, not all alcoholic drinks are made equal. Some don’t cause as much damage to your fitness goals compared to others. So here are some tricks that you may want to consider:
- Low-calorie drinks: If calorie deficit is on your mind, choose drinks that have very little calories like vodka, gin, rum, gin, and dry wine. If beer is your preferred drink, we’d recommend you stick to a light one.
- Mixers: When you choose a drink, look for ones that don’t include calorie-heavy mixers. As a rule of thumb, avoid sugary cocktails like Pina Coladas. Instead, choose cocktails like Mojitos or Gin & Tonic that have lesser sugar and ingredients. Soda is a great choice of mixer too.
Trust your exercise
Here’s some great news: exercising can counter some of the ill effects of alcohol! So if you’re living an active life, chances are that your body can handle it. This, however, doesn’t mean that you can binge-drink your weekend away. Remember that drinking in excess can be detrimental to your fitness goals.
The final word
Moderation is key when it comes to a fit life. And it’s no different with your drinking habits. So watch your habits, explore healthier practices, and become a fitter and better you!