How to Combine Alcohol and Exercise
Time to come clean.
You enjoy a couple of glasses of wine every now and then. Especially when you feel you’ve “earned” them with a hard workout earlier in the day.
Just in case you’re a little reluctant to admit it, don’t worry. You’re not alone.
A Northwestern Medicine study tracked 150 participants ages 18-89 and kept tabs on their physical activity and alcohol use.
Neat little side note about the study: The participants kept records using their smartphones at the end of every day.
As a health researcher, I perked up when I saw that. Many studies that ring alarm bells in the media (like, say, associating saturated fat intake with heart problems) are based on large population surveys. Most people think this involves clipboard-armed scientists following people around, weighing and recording everything they eat.
Not so much.
The truth is closer to thousands of phone calls being made and people being asked what sorts of foods they ate… and how much… sometimes as long as a few years in their past.
For instance, a survey might ask: “How many tablespoons of peanut butter did you eat in the past 12 months?”
Gee, I wonder if there’s some room for error there?
This study, on the other hand, took advantage of recent technology (smartphones) for more accurate reporting. Sweet.
And they made a funny discovery about drinking! Even sweeter.
Turns out folks who exercised were more likely to drink more alcohol that day, on average.
David E. Conroy, lead author of the study, said, “Perhaps people reward themselves for working out by having more to drink or maybe being physically active leads them to encountering more social situations where alcohol is consumed — we don’t know.”
I’d bet real money it’s the first one.
So what’s the optimal balance of alcohol and exercise? Is it OK to drink after training? Before? During? All of the above?
First, we’ll turn to a study done on athletes and binge drinking (Shocker: It was done in Australia).
They found that drinking roughly 10 alcoholic drinks, starting five minutes after a training session…
… drumroll please…
“… suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle and may therefore impair recovery and adaptation to training and/or subsequent performance.”
In other words, muscles didn’t repair themselves as well after training in the binge-drinking group.
Heck, I’d be on the floor halfway through the experiment, lightweight that I am.
But what about more moderate drinking?
Before your workout? Forget it. Alcohol is a diuretic, so the increased urination, along with your usual sweating, increases your risk of dehydration. Plus, your liver is getting taxed more. And you increase your chances of injury from stumbling around.
So keep alcohol off the schedule before your exercise. Unless you’re David Boon, the cricketer rumored to have drank a record 52 beers on the plane flight to England, before winning the series. (Yeah, you guessed it… Australian.)
Anyway, I really don’t think I have to harp on this one…
… or the dangers of drinking during exercise.
But what about after? Could alcohol be your secret elixir to greater relaxation and, ultimately, recovery? Sounds nice. And masking pain certainly feels nice. But if you’re hurting, you should address the core issue, rather than ignore it.
While a drink or two can help you get to sleep at night, it might interfere with just how restful that night is.
Before I become too much of a buzzkill, let’s get to the good news:
While the study I mentioned previously showed alcohol slows down the crucial recovery process from exercise… that was binge drinking. And the participants starting to drink within five minutes of completing their exercise probably had something to do with the results as well.
What about more moderate drinking (say, one or two a day)?
The science is more mixed. Some experiments show testosterone goes down a little, while others report it goes up a tad. Professor Matthew Barnes, who has done more studies on alcohol and exercise than you could drunkenly shake a stick at (he’s from New Zealand), found smaller amounts do not negatively affect strength training progress.
And I’d be remiss to neglect mentioning studies show drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is associated with longevity.
So how do you combine alcohol and exercise?
- Avoid drinking before your workout.
- Make sure your water bottle isn’t filled with beer while you train.
- Stay away from the wine cooler for the first couple hours after you exercise.
- Enjoy in the early evening.
The easiest way to do this is to exercise in the morning, giving you plenty of time to partake later in the day. Schedule your drunken debauchery!
Underground Health Researcher
P.S. In the next few Living Well Daily issues, we’ll dive deep into an alternative sweetener many of you wrote in asking about. Could it be the perfect way to have your cake and eat it too? Stay tuned.
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