Alcohol and Workouts: How Drinking Affects Fitness

Alcohol and Fitness (Image Source: Shutterstock)
How Does Drinking Affect Fitness? (Image Source: Shutterstock)

How Alcohol Consumption Affects Your Body

Unlike other nutrients, most alcohol is not broken down through traditional digestion. It moves much faster and takes shortcuts along the way; essentially, your body gives it priority status over other nutrients. Alcohol moves directly through the stomach lining and wall of the small intestines and straight into the bloodstream. If you haven’t eaten, the rate of absorption is even faster, roughly about twenty minutes. That’s why it’s always a good idea to have some food in your stomach before drinking to help slow down the rate of absorption.

What Alcohol Does to Your Body — Simpleshow Foundation

What Happens When You Combine Alcohol and a Fitness Regimen

When it comes to alcohol and exercise, if you drink regularly, over time, the extra empty calories could affect weight loss goals and muscle performance. Alcohol is dense in calories compared to other macronutrients; alcohol provides 7 calories per gram, whereas carbs and protein provide 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. In addition, alcohol provides very little, if any, nutrients and can inhibit other nutrients from being absorbed. In the case of muscle performance, alcohol inhibits calcium from being absorbed in the muscle cells, which can lead to cramping.

Ingredients Mixed With Alcohol Can Affect Workouts Too

The excess calories also depend on other ingredients mixed into your alcohol, like sugary sodas and syrups added to mixed drinks and fancy cocktails. Some drinks like margaritas or piña coladas can have a whooping 500 calories — and tons of added sugar. If you drank one 6-pack of beer on a given day, that would amount to approximately 900 extra calories to your daily total. You can see how quickly the calories add up — which may not be aligned with your goals. You’re much better off sticking with spirits diluted with plain soda water, beer, or wine to help keep the extra calories under control. Or, try more of a healthy cocktail recipe (or rather, less unhealthy).

Can Alcohol Fit Into a Healthy Lifestyle?

So, what can you do? Frankly, I believe alcohol can still fit into a healthy lifestyle — as long as it’s kept in moderation. Whether you drink alcohol after a workout or the day before, moderation is always key. According to the 2015–2020 U.S. Dietary Guideline for Americans, that means 1 drink for the ladies per day and 2 for the guys, for most healthy people. When preparing for a social event that involves alcohol, try to plan ahead and consume some good fats and lean proteins, to help slow the rate of absorption. If you drink more than one cocktail at an event, pace yourself to no more than 1 alcoholic drink per hour, and drink a glass of water in between rounds to help prevent dehydration.

2015–2020 U.S. Dietary Guideline for Americans Available on Amazon

Resources

Duyff, Roberta 2017, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “Complete Food & Nutrition Guide”. 5th Edition, HMH Available on Amazon
Whitney & Rolfes 2013, “Understanding Nutrition”. 13th Edition, Cengage Advantage Available on Amazon

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