Drinking alcohol and working out

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So before I start this week’s blog I just want to give a quick review of my last week of training. Overall I think the week was fairly successful. My bench press and squat training was solid and went as I expected it to go. I did not go especially heavy on either squat or bench but I got a good amount of volume in and the weights moved well. Deadlift went very well last week. I hit a heavy single of 212.5kg which felt very light despite being 2.5kg off my final deadlift in my last competition. After this I went I hit 192.5kg for 6 reps which is a 12.5kg personal record. My weight is also down 1kg which is more than I wanted but my training doesn’t feel worse because of it so I won’t be making any alterations to my diet. Overall a successful week and I’m looking forward to some heavy squats and bench press this week.

Now I’ve got that out of the way I will start on this week’s topic, alcohol and exercise. I will be talking about how alcohol can affect performance and body composition and whether there is a way to include alcohol in your diet and do so without having a significant detrimental effect on your progress. I will be looking at both binge drinking and moderate, more frequent consumption of alcohol. I would also like to state that I will not be addressing any health implications of alcohol consumption as I am not a doctor and many people are already aware of the health risks but instead looking at how it can impact your fitness lifestyle.

This first section of this article is mainly aimed at those who control little to no alcohol during the week but may have a few (or many) alcoholic drinks on a friday or saturday night. First of all I should say that if you are looking for optimal performance in the gym or optimal body composition then never consuming alcohol would be advised. Therefore if you are a professional athlete or performance or looking your best are your sole goals then you shouldn’t be consuming alcohol. That being said, many of you reading this are probably not professional athletes and you can still perform well in the gym and achieve most of your goals whilst still consuming alcohol. Firstly, I want to look at how a night of binge drinking might affect performance in the gym. If you try to exercise after a heavy night of drinking then you will likely underperform. This may seem obvious and I’m sure many of you have experienced this but it is worth stating. This is mainly down to dehydration caused by the consumption of alcohol and also lack of sleep that usually accompanies a night out. That being said, not many people train the day after a night out and most people include rest days in their programme and so I would advise making the day after a night of drinking a rest day. Unless you have drunk so much that you have caused significant damage to your liver, then you will likely be able to perform at your usual level a couple of days later as long you rehydrate and catch up on lost sleep on your day off.

If we are looking at fat loss or muscle growth then this is a different story. Alcohol will induce impaired muscle protein symphysis meaning that if you are in a calorie deficit (or trying to lose weight) then you are at risk of muscle loss and if you are in a calorie surplus (looking to gain weight) then muscle growth will be significantly impaired. If you drink in moderation then this effect can be reduced but most people who binge drink tend to do so in excess and so these individuals may find it hard to gain a significant amount of muscle if they are binge drinking fairly frequently. However, one heavy night of drinking is likely not going to stop you building muscle for good or destroy any muscle you do have and so infrequent consumption of alcohol may not be overly detrimental to someone looking to gain muscle and if you are over consuming alcohol frequently then you must accept that your rate of muscle growth will be significantly reduced. So my advice is that if you are looking to gain muscle but also want to drink then do so infrequently and in moderation but if you are the type to get blackout drunk then make sure you aren’t doing this every weekend if you still want to make progress.

Binge drinking will also have an impact on those looking to lose weight. As I have mentioned above, you will be at risk of losing muscle mass if you are in a calorie deficit and then consume a significant amount of alcohol. The main risk with binge drinking,however, is the extra calories that are consumed. Alcohol is high in calories and most drinks also contain a lot of carbohydrates like sugar in wine and cocktails. My advice would therefore be to drink spirits like vodka and gin and use zero calorie mixers like diet coke. If you do this and drink them in moderation then you can do so without consuming a silly amount of calories and can keep yourself in a calorie deficit by reducing calorie intake from carbs and fats during the day to make up for the extra calories. But as I mentioned earlier, many people like to drink to excess. If this is the case then this cannot be done too frequently as weight loss will almost be impossible unless you drastically reduce calories throughout the week which will mean you are more at risk of muscle loss as well as decrease in performance. My advice, therefore, for people who want to still go out at the weekend and also lose weight is to either drink in moderation if you like to go out frequently and account for those extra calories by reducing calorie intake during the day or go out less frequently and accept you may gain a little bit of weight in the short term because of it.

This next section is aimed at those who like to enjoy a few drinks multiple times a week. Like I have said previously, if you want optimal results then I would advise avoiding alcohol altogether but for most people they enjoy having a glass of wine with their dinner or a couple of beers in the evening and still want to perform well in the gym. As long as you are not consistently drinking too much alcohol and limit yourself to 2-3 drinks per night then you should be able to maintain high performance in the gym provided you hydrate yourself adequately – a good rule of thumb is to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. Alcohol can also affect your sleeping. If you are drinking too close to when you sleep then the quality of your sleep and therefore your recovery may be affected. My advice therefore for those looking to perform well in the gym whilst enjoying a drink or two in the evening is to limit yourself to 2 or 3 per night, alternating between alcoholic drink and water and try to avoid drinking too close to when you plan on sleeping.

If you are looking to gain muscle and also drink then you might see some issues. As I mentioned earlier, drinking alcohol is going to stop you gaining the most amount of muscle possible. For this reason, if you a serious about gaining muscle then it is probably not worth drinking at all. However, like with many things this is dose dependant. The more you drink and more frequently you drink, the worse effect it will have on your progress. So if you are looking to gain muscle and drink then limit yourself to 1-3 drinks depending on weight; regularly consuming more than this will likely be detrimental to muscle growth.

When looking to lose weight, the same considerations as above have to be made to reduce muscle loss but the calories in alcohol must also be considered as well as the effect alcohol can have on hunger. Like I have said earlier, you probably shouldn’t be regularly consuming over 2 or 3 drinks in one night. It is then quite simple to work out the calorie content of those drinks and adjust your calorie intake accordingly. So if you work out that the calories you consume a night through alcohol is 500 then on days you drink you should reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories. These calories should come from your carb and fat sources and protein intake should be kept the same to reduce risk of muscle loss. As long as you are doing this then you should not see your fat loss stall, however, I advise people to try not to drink their calories as they will not fill you up as much as food will and so if you are getting hungry because you are having to reduce your calorie intake from food then it may be worth ditching the booze as you concentrate on losing weight. The effects of alcohol on hunger levels vary depending on what alcohol you drink but what remains consistent is that by drinking alcohol you are less in control of your actions or you lose your inhibitions which may make you more likely to go off your diet and over consume food. The effect of this will vary from person to person so although it may not affect you, it is worth just keeping an eye on.

So there you go. That is my breakdown of alcohol consumption for people interested in fitness. I hope you have learnt something from this blog and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic as it is a little bit more of a subjective topic than some of my previous articles.

Speak to you again soon.


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