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A person drinking alcohol after a workout session
Drinking Habits

Is It Okay To Drink Alcohol After a Workout?

Published:
July 20, 2023
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10 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
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10 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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10 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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10 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 20, 2023
·
10 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, reveling in 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.

How Does Alcohol Impact Muscle Growth?

A person drinking alcohol after a workout session

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 wrench into the works.

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 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. 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 diuretic, a substance that increases urine production. The more we drink, the more we urinate, losing valuable fluids that our body needs. Along with the fluids, we also lose crucial electrolytes — minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium. So, contrary to our assumptions, consuming alcohol after a workout can actually worsen dehydration and disrupt our body's electrolyte balance.

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 body needs 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 body carries 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 — 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.

Does Alcohol Affect My Workout Negatively?

There are several ways in which alcohol can sabotage our workout efforts.

  • Reduction in performance. For one thing, drinking won’t help our performance.
  • Dehydration. As we know, alcohol is notoriously dehydrating. We lose fluids when we work out, and adding alcohol to the mix is bound to make things worse.
  • Energy levels. Alcohol can sap our energy, leaving us too tired to put full effort into our workout. The resulting fatigue can have a negative impact on our endurance and performance.

As we can see, booze won’t help our workout, and may actively stand in the way of our efforts.

How Long Should You Wait To Drink Alcohol After Working Out?

Most experts say wait at least an hour. For the first hour after working out, the priority should be resting and replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes.

Risks Behind Drinking Alcohol After a Workout

The risks of drinking after a workout are mostly centered on the recovery process, which can be sabotaged by alcohol. Alcohol hinders muscle growth and can even cause muscle deterioration, especially if we drink a lot. This is the exact opposite of what we want if we’re trying to build up our strength and endurance.

Moreover, the increased fatigue caused by alcohol can sap our motivation, leading us to opt out of future workouts. Over time, we can find ourselves getting out of the habit of working out altogether, which can have a negative impact on our health (especially with alcohol in the picture).

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 you reach for a drink, it's important to ensure you've adequately replaced the fluids you lost during the workout.
  • Prioritize nutrition. Start your recovery with a nutrient-rich meal or nutrition shake. This gives your body 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.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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