Coffee, chocolate, and alcohol a probably three of the must studied nutritional substances. There is substantial research that shows light alcohol consumption has several health benefits. But what about those of us who take our fitness serious or those of us who consider ourselves athletes? Is a little alcohol okay? Or should we abstain from alcohol completely? How does alcohol effect our workouts?

Effects on Alcohol and Working Out

Without given too much away, alcohol CAN impair our workouts and limit what we work so hard to achieve. Let’s take a look on a deeper level.

Alcohol and Decreased Nutritional Replenishment

If you take your working out or training serious, chances are you know just how serious pre and post-workout nutrition can be. You need the protein for muscle recovery but you also need the carbohydrates for glycogen replenishing. While you may not necessarily view alcohol as a poison, your body does. When you drink alcohol your body treats it as a poison and goes through all means necessary to purge alcohol from your body. What this means is that any other nutrient sources that you take in on top of the alcohol, won’t be properly utilized by the body for recovering. In fact, because the body is working so hard to get rid of alcohol, it increases the chances that other fuels such as carbohydrates while be stored as body fat.

The effects of alcohol on working out haven’t been closely studied – it’s kind of just assumed that alcohol isn’t beneficial to the training process. One study looked took individuals and simulated a meal consisting of 17% protein, 50% carbohydrates, and 33% fats. The study then simulated a “night out drinking” where individuals were given 70g of alcohol – about five standard alcoholic drinks. The study found that acute ingestion of this much alcohol was enough to impair the way the body metabolizes protein in the body (4). Another study in the Journal Of Nutrition found the same results. The Journal also found that even after two drinks (28g of alcohol), protein metabolism was moderately effected (5).

What About Alcohol and Carbohydrates?

Our muscles are an important source of fuel for the workouts that we do. The source of fuel is known as glycogen – the stored source of glucose in our muscles. As free sugar in our blood gets used up during our workout our muscles need more energy so our body triggers our muscles to release the sugar stored up in our muscle. Immediately after a workout our body goes into a state of replenishment where our body is searching for sources of food to replenish the glycogen lost in our muscles. This is achieved by eating carbohydrates after a workout.

But what happens if alcohol enters the mix? Just like how alcohol inhibits protein metabolism inside of our bodies, alcohol does the same thing. The Journal Of Applied Physiology took six well trained cyclists, put them through a workout, then gave them a regular diet as well as alcohol of both 1.5g/kg and 1.75g/kg of body weight. They study found that glycogen uptake was significantly impaired with the given concentrations of alcohol (6).

These studies belong to just a handful of what we know about alcohol and food: alcohol keeps nutrients from being absorbed and being used by your body.

Alcohol Keeping You From Recovery

Nutrition is one thing that comes to mind when thinking of working out, but what about sleep? Alcohol is frequently used as an aid to help people fall asleep. Unfortunately it’s only about the first half of our sleep that really benefits from alcohol. What alcohol does to the last half of our sleep cycle really messes with how we would otherwise be rebuilding after a hard workout. In the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, they reviewed twenty-seven different research articles that took a look at how alcohol effects our sleep pattern. Alcohol impairs the most important cycle of sleep, the rapid eye movement, or REM cycle (2). Disrupting the REM cycle can cause day time drowsiness, poor concentration, and reduce the ability of the body to heal itself overnight. While alcohol may trick you into falling asleep sooner, you may not be getting the full benefits of the workout you did earlier and your body will be more fatigued to perform the next workout or athletic performance after you wake up from a poor night sleep. The good news: sleep patterns were only significantly altered with heavy alcohol consumption (five drinks on the same occasion).

Decreased Bone Density?

A group of mice were assigned a task of running on a treadmill for five days a week for sixteen weeks. Half of the mice were given alcohol whereas the other mice weren’t. In the group who was given alcohol, they had significantly lower bone mass. It’s theorized that athletes who consume high impact sports or activities that these athletes are at an increased risk for fractures because of more porous bones.

Alcohol and Working Out – What You Need To Know

So what does this mean for the person that is in a phase where they’re taking working out serious?

Alcohol will limit your gains and progress.

Alcohol keeps your muscles from reaching their true capability of repair after a workout by preventing protein to getting to your muscles. Fuel for future workouts will be limited as the ability to properly store carbohydrates will be limited. Your sleep will be impaired leading to less muscle recovery during the night as well as energy for your next workout.

Sources:

1. http://yourlivingbody.com/must-know-things-about-alcohol-metabolism/
2. Ebrahim, IO, et. al. “Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects On Normal Sleep.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. April 2013. Web. 22 July 2016.
3. Evans, G. L., et. al. “The Effects Of Chronic Alcohol Consumption and Exercise On The Skeleton Of Adult Male Rats.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 11 April 2006. Web. 27 July 2016.
4. De Feo, P., et. al. “Ethanol Impairs Post-Prandial Hepatic Protein Metabolism.” The Journal Of Clinical Investigation. April 1995. Web. 27 July 2016.
5. Cruciani, G., et al. “Moderate and Large Doses Of Ethanol Deferentially Affect Hepatic Protein Metabolism In Humans.” Feb. 1998. Web. 27 July 2016.
6. Burke, L, et. al. “Effect Of Alcohol Intake On Muscle Glycogen Storage After Prolonged Exercise.” Journal Of Applied Physiology. 1 Sep. 2003. Web. 27 July 2016.