How does alcohol affect your exercise?

No one is ever desperate to workout out with a hangover, but beyond the sore head and reluctant attitude the following day, alcohol does actually affect your exercise more than you might have thought. 

What did you do this weekend? ‘Stayed at home’ was probably the answer for most people, but with many having topped up their Saturday nights with a few glasses of wine, a gin and tonic or two, or perhaps a winter cocktail. Beyond the weekends, though, alcohol has played quite a big role in many of our lockdown experiences, with one in five adults drinking alcohol more often than pre-pandemic, according to charity Alcohol Change. 

Unfortunately, this habit can come with consequences that are bigger than just feeling slightly groggy the next day. Alcohol affects the body as much as it does the head, so there will be an impact on your strength and training too. 

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How does alcohol impact exercise?

It goes without saying that alcohol doesn’t leave you feeling refreshed enough to train at full capacity, but it also impacts session recovery. “Your body takes about one hour to break down one unit of alcohol,” explains personal trainer Tess Glynne-Jones. “This delays recovery as your body will be focused on getting the drink out of your system, rather than on rebuilding muscle.”

Being under-recovered will mean your body is not in the optimal condition to train again, so sticking with your usual workout schedule could have a negative impact. “If you do push yourself to train at the same intensity without as much recovery, you’re more likely to get sick or injured, which is obviously going to delay your training even more,” says Tess.

Does alcohol impact muscle building?

It’s not just the performance during your exercise that will be reduced, either: drinking alcohol can actually reduce the positive takeaways of exercise. As well as the fact that you’ll be lifting less, and therefore putting less stress on your body to grow more muscle, the alcohol itself can impact your muscle growth. 

”Alcohol reduces muscle protein synthesis, the process responsible for adaptation, repair and regeneration of muscle,” explains Emma Obayuvana, member of the Strong Women Collective. “So yes, muscle growth and muscle recovery are affected by drinking alcohol.”

One study, published in the Public Library of Science, found that protein synthesis was reduced by up to 37% when alcohol was drunk after exercising. The researchers found that alcohol consumption generates oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as disrupts the body’s balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. 

However, the study was mainly investigating the effects of binge drinking. So while the best thing for you and your exercise regime may be to go tee-total, a nice glass of red with your dinner or a relaxing gin and tonic on a Friday night won’t ruin all of your progress. Just remember: everything in moderation. 

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