Alcohol, Fitness, and Weight Loss
You made it through the workweek. Finally, you are ready to unwind by drinking a glass of wine or joining your friends for a late-night happy hour (or both). Then the following thought comes to mind: “If I drink any alcohol, will I have a hard time at the gym tomorrow morning?”
Can drinking alcohol hurt my workouts?
A new study explored if moderately drinking alcohol five times a week affected body composition while performing HIIT training twice a week for 45 to 60 minutes.
The 10-week study observed 72 healthy adults between 18 to 40 years old.
The researchers split the participants into two groups (at random):
A non-training group and a HIIT training group
The participants then chose whether they would like to drink alcohol or not.
Those who opted-in for alcoholic beverages were randomly selected to receive either beer with 5.4% alcohol or a comparable amount of vodka.
Those who chose not to have any alcohol were randomly selected to receive sparkling water or non-alcoholic beer.
The researchers defined moderate alcohol consumption as:
Men: 2 to 3 drinks a day (24-36 grams)
Women: 1 to 2 glasses a day (12-24 grams)
Researchers found no difference between groups in body mass, visceral adipose tissue (the fat surrounding our organs), waist circumference, and waist to hip ratio.
Although, the training groups did show significant losses in fat mass and gaining lean body mass.
What does this mean?
This study shows that we can drink alcohol in moderation and still improve our body composition. That’s excellent news for those who enjoy a beer or two after work.
Still, this doesn’t mean you can drink a bunch of beers and still make progress at the gym.
Drinking a lot of alcohol (more than five drinks per day) has been found to:
- Inhibit fat oxidation (fat to be burned as fuel). (1)
- Inhibit muscle protein synthesis (the creation of new muscle proteins to build repair and build new muscle). (2)
- Consuming four alcoholic drinks has been found to increase subjective hunger and lead to eating more calories than drinking 0 to 1 alcoholic beverage. (3)
- Alcohol can mess with your sleep and performance at the gym. (4)(5)
And a 2019 systematic review by Lakićević et al. looked at the effects of drinking alcohol following lifting workouts.
The review found that most measurements, such as heart rate, blood glucose, and muscle endurance, were not affected. However, the study did find that Cortisol levels were elevated, while testosterone levels and muscle protein synthesis were low.
These results suggest that occasionally drinking alcohol after working out does not hurt your progress.
Nevertheless, in the long term, it can hurt performance and inhibit muscle protein synthesis.
How do we track alcohol?
The first step is finding out how many calories the alcohol you are drinking has. We recommend going into the brand’s website or myfitnesspal to figure that out.
Let’s say I’m about to take a shot of tequila. Tequila has about 104 calories in a 1.5-ounce shot.
There are three ways you could track the calories:
You could count them as carbs:
- 104/4= 26 grams of carbs
- 104/9 = 11.6 grams of fat (round to 12)
Or as a combination of both:
- 52/4 =13 grams of carbs
- 52/9=5.8 grams of fat (round to 6)
It would also be wise to stay away from sweetened drinks, as these add even more calories.
Alcohol won’t cause you to gain weight or stop you from losing weight as long as you keep track of your calories.
However, keep in mind that drinking 4-5 alcoholic drinks per day can increase hunger, affect sleep, gym performance, and hurt your ability to build muscle.
So, suppose you are on a weight loss or muscle-building journey but would like to enjoy your wine. In that case, we recommend consuming alcoholic beverages in moderation (1-2 drinks).
Enjoy life and have a few drinks! Cheers!!
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