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Drinking Habits

Is It Okay To Drink Alcohol After a Workout?

Published:
July 20, 2023
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8 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 20, 2023
·
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 20, 2023
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8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 20, 2023
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8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 20, 2023
·
8 min read

You’ve just finished a strenuous workout at the gym, your muscles are burning with the sweet ache of exertion, and you feel an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. It’s time to celebrate! You grab your favorite beer from the fridge, reliving the old tradition of a post-workout brew. But is this truly the best way to celebrate? To understand this better, we delve into the scientific research exploring the intersection of alcohol and physical exercise.

Alcohol and Muscle Recovery

Let’s first discuss the basics of muscle recovery post-exercise. When we exercise, especially during strength training, microscopic tears occur in our muscle fibers. This might sound alarming, but it's an essential part of physical development. The body responds to these tears by repairing and strengthening the muscles, leading to muscle growth and enhanced strength over time. However, introducing alcohol into this process throws a proverbial wrench into the works.

How does alcohol affect muscle growth? Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can hinder protein synthesis — the process by which our bodies repair the damaged muscle fibers and facilitate muscle growth. This doesn't just slow the recovery process; it also potentially undermines the strength gains we are working so hard to achieve. If we look forward to seeing significant improvements in our fitness levels, it's important to recognize that grabbing a beer after our workout might be standing in the way.

Alcohol's Effect on Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

After an intense workout, it's natural for us to feel thirsty, having lost a lot of fluid through sweat. While we might think a chilled beer is the perfect thirst quencher, it’s not. Why? Because of the physiological effects of alcohol on our body’s hydration.

Alcohol is a known diuretic, a substance that increases urine production. The more we drink, the more we urinate, losing valuable fluids that our body needs (especially after exercising!). Along with the fluids, we also lose crucial electrolytes — minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium, which play a critical role in maintaining our body's nerve function, muscle control, and balance of fluids. Even though it’s mostly water, beer is not hydrating. 

So, contrary to our assumptions, consuming alcohol after a workout can actually worsen dehydration and disrupt our body's electrolyte balance. This can have a direct impact on muscle function and overall physical performance in subsequent workouts.

Diagram about alcohol and working out

Alcohol and Nutrient Absorption

To replenish energy reserves and repair muscle damage post-workout, we need to consume a balanced meal — one rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These macronutrients provide the fuel our bodies need to kick-start the recovery process.

However, alcohol can interfere with this process. Research has found that alcohol can hinder the body's ability to absorb nutrients. This is because alcohol can damage the cells lining the stomach and intestines, impeding their ability to absorb nutrients efficiently.

Even if we consume a hearty, nutrient-rich meal post-workout, alcohol consumption might mean we aren't reaping all the nutritional benefits of our carefully-planned meal.

Alcohol's Effect on Sleep Quality

A good night's sleep is integral to overall health, and even more so when we're engaging in regular exercise. During sleep, our bodies carry out vital repair and recovery processes. This includes the repair of muscle tissues and consolidation of memory, which is crucial for skill acquisition and improvement in exercise techniques.

However, despite its reputation as a sleep aid, alcohol can significantly disrupt our sleep patterns. While it might help us fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces the amount of REM sleep we experience. REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is considered the most restorative phase of sleep, playing a significant role in memory consolidation and mood regulation.

By reducing REM sleep, alcohol impacts our overall sleep quality, impedes recovery, and affects our performance during subsequent workouts. It's another reason to think twice before reaching for that post-workout beer.

Striking a Balance

The goal here isn't to demonize alcohol or to insist that fitness buffs need to abstain entirely. It's about understanding the potential impacts and finding a balance that doesn't undermine our fitness goals.

Here are some tips for mindful drinking:

  • Hydrate before imbibing. Before we reach for a drink, it's important to ensure we've adequately replaced the fluids lost during the workout.

  • Prioritize nutrition. Before we drink, we should ensure we've consumed a nutrient-rich meal. This gives our bodies the necessary fuel for recovery.

  • Embrace moderation. This is key in balancing alcohol consumption with fitness goals. The CDC defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

  • Think about timing. If possible, we should give our bodies some time to start the recovery process before introducing alcohol.


Alcohol and Fitness: The Takeaways


The relationship between alcohol and exercise is nuanced. While enjoying a post-workout drink isn't inherently detrimental, it's important to understand its potential impacts on our fitness journey. Alcohol prevents muscle growth, dehydrates the body, and disrupts the sleep we need for recovery. With understanding our physiology and practicing mindful drinking, we can strike a balance between having a drink and reaching our fitness goals.

You’ve just finished a strenuous workout at the gym, your muscles are burning with the sweet ache of exertion, and you feel an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. It’s time to celebrate! You grab your favorite beer from the fridge, reliving the old tradition of a post-workout brew. But is this truly the best way to celebrate? To understand this better, we delve into the scientific research exploring the intersection of alcohol and physical exercise.

Alcohol and Muscle Recovery

Let’s first discuss the basics of muscle recovery post-exercise. When we exercise, especially during strength training, microscopic tears occur in our muscle fibers. This might sound alarming, but it's an essential part of physical development. The body responds to these tears by repairing and strengthening the muscles, leading to muscle growth and enhanced strength over time. However, introducing alcohol into this process throws a proverbial wrench into the works.

How does alcohol affect muscle growth? Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can hinder protein synthesis — the process by which our bodies repair the damaged muscle fibers and facilitate muscle growth. This doesn't just slow the recovery process; it also potentially undermines the strength gains we are working so hard to achieve. If we look forward to seeing significant improvements in our fitness levels, it's important to recognize that grabbing a beer after our workout might be standing in the way.

Alcohol's Effect on Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

After an intense workout, it's natural for us to feel thirsty, having lost a lot of fluid through sweat. While we might think a chilled beer is the perfect thirst quencher, it’s not. Why? Because of the physiological effects of alcohol on our body’s hydration.

Alcohol is a known diuretic, a substance that increases urine production. The more we drink, the more we urinate, losing valuable fluids that our body needs (especially after exercising!). Along with the fluids, we also lose crucial electrolytes — minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium, which play a critical role in maintaining our body's nerve function, muscle control, and balance of fluids. Even though it’s mostly water, beer is not hydrating. 

So, contrary to our assumptions, consuming alcohol after a workout can actually worsen dehydration and disrupt our body's electrolyte balance. This can have a direct impact on muscle function and overall physical performance in subsequent workouts.

Diagram about alcohol and working out

Alcohol and Nutrient Absorption

To replenish energy reserves and repair muscle damage post-workout, we need to consume a balanced meal — one rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These macronutrients provide the fuel our bodies need to kick-start the recovery process.

However, alcohol can interfere with this process. Research has found that alcohol can hinder the body's ability to absorb nutrients. This is because alcohol can damage the cells lining the stomach and intestines, impeding their ability to absorb nutrients efficiently.

Even if we consume a hearty, nutrient-rich meal post-workout, alcohol consumption might mean we aren't reaping all the nutritional benefits of our carefully-planned meal.

Alcohol's Effect on Sleep Quality

A good night's sleep is integral to overall health, and even more so when we're engaging in regular exercise. During sleep, our bodies carry out vital repair and recovery processes. This includes the repair of muscle tissues and consolidation of memory, which is crucial for skill acquisition and improvement in exercise techniques.

However, despite its reputation as a sleep aid, alcohol can significantly disrupt our sleep patterns. While it might help us fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces the amount of REM sleep we experience. REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is considered the most restorative phase of sleep, playing a significant role in memory consolidation and mood regulation.

By reducing REM sleep, alcohol impacts our overall sleep quality, impedes recovery, and affects our performance during subsequent workouts. It's another reason to think twice before reaching for that post-workout beer.

Striking a Balance

The goal here isn't to demonize alcohol or to insist that fitness buffs need to abstain entirely. It's about understanding the potential impacts and finding a balance that doesn't undermine our fitness goals.

Here are some tips for mindful drinking:

  • Hydrate before imbibing. Before we reach for a drink, it's important to ensure we've adequately replaced the fluids lost during the workout.

  • Prioritize nutrition. Before we drink, we should ensure we've consumed a nutrient-rich meal. This gives our bodies the necessary fuel for recovery.

  • Embrace moderation. This is key in balancing alcohol consumption with fitness goals. The CDC defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

  • Think about timing. If possible, we should give our bodies some time to start the recovery process before introducing alcohol.


Alcohol and Fitness: The Takeaways


The relationship between alcohol and exercise is nuanced. While enjoying a post-workout drink isn't inherently detrimental, it's important to understand its potential impacts on our fitness journey. Alcohol prevents muscle growth, dehydrates the body, and disrupts the sleep we need for recovery. With understanding our physiology and practicing mindful drinking, we can strike a balance between having a drink and reaching our fitness goals.

Drink Less, Live More, and Thrive With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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