Alcohol and fitness are two terms we do not typically put in the same sentence. Yet, we have been told that we should give up alcohol if we want to get fit for the longest time. It is terrible for us, it makes us fat, and it melts our muscle mass. But are these claims accurate, or is the truth somewhere else?
Before we move on, let us be very clear here. This is not about making excuses for drinking alcohol. Instead, this blog aims to help you understand the impact alcohol has on your workout routine and how to keep the right balance. So let us dive in.
Alcohol and Fitness - Is it as bad as people say?
Prevailing wisdom suggests that alcohol is the absolute enemy to fitness and good health. Claims often revolve around alcohol being fattening, muscle-wasting, or something along these lines.
But the truth is, alcohol is not that bad. First, alcohol itself is not fattening. We need to be in a calorie surplus to gain fat, which can not occur simply because we have had a few alcoholic drinks. We should account for alcohol calories, but this does not mean that having a few beers with your friends will make you fat. Significant weight gain is a process that occurs because of many poor eating and lifestyle habits.
Second, alcohol does not impact muscle protein synthesis, testosterone levels, or recovery much. In fact, small to moderate amounts of alcohol might be good for measures of insulin sensitivity and similar. So, do not be afraid that having a couple of drinks will lead to prolonged muscle soreness or poor performance in the gym.
Still, it is essential to note that too much alcohol can be harmful, so moderation is key. For example, having too much alcohol can inhibit muscle protein synthesis, prolong recovery, and suppress testosterone. Plus, too much alcohol can lead to a hangover, which will significantly impact your productivity, motivation, and ability to push yourself hard in the gym.
But what is too much alcohol? One person’s definition of moderate alcohol consumption may be very different from others. According to Vertava Health, consuming seven or more drinks per week is considered excessive drinking for women, and 15 drinks or more per week is considered heavy drinking for men.
Three Tactics to balance Alcohol with Fitness
1. Account for Alcohol Calories
Alcohol is a macronutrient that carries 7.1 calories per gram. But aside from that, we also have to keep sugars in mind. For example, a cocktail might seem harmless, but some are loaded with hundreds of calories per glass. Beer is also rich in calories, with most brands offering around 40-45 calories per 100 ml. So, count the calories in when planning to go out for drinks.
2. Drink in moderation
The best thing you can do to enjoy alcohol and still make good progress at the gym is practice moderation. Have a drink or two and call it a night. Small amounts of alcohol will not have much of an impact on your recovery, testosterone, or well-being in the following day.
3. Go for low-calorie Drinks
Not all alcoholic beverages are created the same, and some are better for fitness-oriented people. Specifically, you should go for alcoholic drinks that almost purely consist of ethanol without having extra carbs or fats. Spirits, such as vodka, tequila, whiskey, gin, and bourbon are always good options. Dry wines are also low in calories.
If you are into the habit of combining alcohol with soda (for example, vodka with a coke), get sugar-free soda to save up extra calories. Most sugars are added by the mixers; if you like your drinks with Orange Juice, Coke, or Red Bull.
4. Alcohol is not like alcohol
A recent study has been published in July 2021 called: Got Beer? A Systematic Review of Beer and Exercise
According to the researcher, a low ABV beer (less than 4% alcohol by volume) can even be effective as a post-workout hydrator. Beer has carbohydrates and some sodium where water does not, which could be beneficial post-exercise.
However, once you go over 4% alcohol content or have more than one or two 12-ounce (0.35 liter) low ABV beers, that is where the benefits decline. Risk of higher water loss, reduced muscle gains, less than optimal training, and potentially increased body fat.
To sum up...
It is okay to enjoy a glass of alcohol now and then; be reasonable and drink in moderation. Think of the extra added sugar by the mixers, which might get avoided.
Bear in mind, however, drinking alcohol as a regular pattern can negatively affect your performance in the gym. And keep in mind, excessive alcoholism does not just affect you in your fitness goals; it affects you in your daily life. And always keep in mind, working out is also a great stress reliever to take advantage of. Your mind and body will thank you later on.