Exercise and Alcohol

exercise and alcoholAlcohol and exercise will always interact for many reasons: Guilt from having one too many will force someone back into the gym before they are ready; alcohol is mainly marketed toward sports and leisure (sometimes I participate in a sport I don’t enjoy just for the ensuing beer-infused camaraderie); lastly some exercise enthusiasts will view alcohol as a reward for their hard work and discipline during the preceding time period. The motivations to consume alcohol are endless, but I specifically want to address its affect on exercise. Will alcohol affect exercise performance? How about on subsequent days to its consumption? How to lessen or subdue these reactions? I’ll attempt to look into each of these questions to help everyone who drinks get the most out of their workouts and out of life.

As a personal trainer, I have lost count how many times I have received a call on Saturday or Sunday morning from a client cancelling their session because of excessive partying and drinking the night before.

I have also lost count of how many clients have come to the gym hungover or, even in some cases, still partially intoxicated. It’s hard to expect much from someone who’s looking at you with red eyes and pillow impressions still on their face, but it happens. I have always said that if you;re not well, exercise will do more harm than good.

Although this seems like a logical statement, people will always want to test their limitations; I know because I’ve done it all my life. The effects of “excessive” alcohol consumption are well documented but it’s worth skimming over some of them here. Alcohol influences brain function by first affecting the brain’s frontal lobes, the reasoning centers and sedating the inhibitory nerves.

Higher levels of alcohol then affect the centers of speech, vision, motor control and eventually consciousness. Most of us have felt these effects, where everything and everyone becomes more desirable (or are we just less inhibited?). In the stomach, alcohol causes over-secretion of acid and histamine leading to inflammation (gastritis) and ulcer formation. Alcohol also causes inflammation of the liver cells, even in occasional users, which can be detected in blood tests that show an increase in release of enzymes from the liver. In some people, long-term drinking leads to cirrhosis, irreversible scarring of the liver.A lot of people are misguided or uninformed when it comes to alcohol.

Studies are regularly surfacing touting the benefits of regular alcohol consumption. These studies are usually refuted or disproven as more reliable data comes forth. Few substances demonstrate the perils of poor study design as alcohol. With confounding hidden variables and bad judgments made by the designers, very little can be taken seriously from most of this research. Just the other day, on the news, there was a report advising everyone to drink beer for the vitamin B content. This is a falsehood; in fact, alcohol acts to displace vitamins from the body.

First, it causes intestinal cells to stop absorbing thiamine, folacin and B12. Liver cells lose their efficiency in activating vitamin D. Kidneys excrete an increased amount of magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc, robbing your body of stores of these essential minerals. This obviously make exercising and recovery much more difficult . Besides, you’d have to consume about 11 beers to obtain the amount of B vitamins in a bowl of cereal.The brain will not function as quickly nor the muscles as skillfully with alcohol in the system.

Recent research indicates that consumption of even moderate amounts of alcohol following eccentric-based exercise (weight training or running for example) magnifies the normally observed losses in dynamic and static strength. Therefore, to minimize exercise related losses in muscle function and expedite recovery, participants in sports involving eccentric muscle work should avoid alcohol-containing beverages in the post-event period. Alcohol can accentuate exercise fatigue by increasing lactic acid production. It also dilates blood vessels and diverts circulation to the skin

Consuming alcohol the night before an activity can hinder your performance by causing dehydration and loss of minerals and electrolytes. And a bad hangover can make even the simplest task seem monumental. If you think a few gallons a water and a multivitamin is the cure, think again. If you must do chin-ups while hungover, be prepared to run to the bathroom in a frenzy, mid-set, to succumb to the sickness. Trust me, it’ll shut your workout down in a hurry and don’t even ask me about deep squats with a hangover.

I’ve noticed this many times myself and with clients – exercise the day after a party is ALWAYS a bad idea.

With regards to body composition, a dehydrated, depleted body will yield a higher percentage of body fat than its well-hydrated counterpart. Alcohol also stimulates excess levels of plasma cortisol, which can have harmful immunosuppressant effects and major anabolic consequences. In short, alcohol may slow down or prevent an optimal environment for muscle building and may encourage its breakdown. It tends to make obese people more obese by decreasing total body fat metabolism by nearly 80%.

It’s not my place to tell people whether they should drink alcohol or not, but rather help people make informed decisions for the betterment of their health and to maximize the results from the training I give them. I firmly believe that 24-48 hrs should pass before vigorous activity should be attempted after drinking 4 or more alcoholic beverages. This may be even more pronounced if you are over 25 years of age and if the drinking coincides with an unusually late night. Partying and drinking are fun and a major part of our social dynamic but it comes at a price to the body, both short term and in the long term.

Enjoy drinking in moderation to ensure that you get the most out of life and feel great day in and day out. If you must binge, drinking large amounts of water before, during and after a binge can prevent and treat symptoms. Just be prepared for the ensuing laughter of your friends when you order an ice water with your Guinness. You’ll have the last laugh come morning.

Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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