Alcohol After Exercise: Not a Good Mix
September 28, 2022
Earlier this year, a popular beer maker aired a Super Bowl ad showing athletes lifting weights, swimming, doing yoga and other fitness activities, followed by someone popping the cap off a bottle of beer.
A cold beer may sound enticing after sweating through a workout or race event. After all, it’s often part of the fun of training together and then reaching a goal. But while they may be refreshing, alcoholic beverages are not a healthy post-exercise drink.
Rehydration Is Key
After a rigorous workout or sports competition, your body needs to refuel, rehydrate and rebuild muscle. Alcohol does just the opposite. It promotes dehydration, which can hinder recovery.
In fact, rehydrating after one alcoholic drink can require up to twice as much water, says Kelli Santiago, board-certified sports dietitian and wellness coach at University Hospitals. And that doesn’t include the amount of water needed to rehydrate from the exercise.
“The more alcohol you drink, the more dehydrated you’ll become, which can have serious consequences on recovery and overall health,” Santiago says.
“A light beer or drink with a lower alcohol content may have less of an effect on this than a drink made with hard liquor. But that doesn’t mean you can drink an unlimited amount of light beer,” says Santiago. “Alcohol in any amount can have an detrimental effect on hydration, recovery and performance.”
Drinking one low-alcohol beverage after a light workout is not likely to be detrimental. “But the more dehydrated you are, the more dangerous drinking alcohol after a workout or sports event becomes,” Santiago says.
Beer Is Not a Good Carb
In addition to fluids, you also need carbohydrates to refuel and protein to rebuild muscle. After exercises such as swimming and running, carbohydrates replace glycogen burned during the workout.
Unfortunately, it’s a myth that carbohydrates in beer will help you recover from competition or exercise. The carbs in alcohol are metabolized and stored as fat, Santiago says. As a result, alcohol can inhibit lean muscle gains. Alcohol decreases testosterone and growth hormone – two hormones that are usually increased after a strength workout.
What’s more, alcohol can suppress the production of protein needed to repair muscle damage after exercise. That can also be harmful to athletic performance later on.
Other Harmful Effects of Alcohol
Some people exercise to lose weight. It goes without saying that alcohol can work against you in that department.
“Alcohol contains calories but little to no nutrients, so they can be considered wasted calories,” Santiago says. “And alcohol lowers your inhibitions and increases the sensitivity of the reward centers of your brain. So not only do we tend to eat more unhealthy foods when we drink alcohol, but the food we do eat tastes really, really good, which also leads us to eat more quantity.”
People with certain medical conditions, such as heart arrythmias, or who take medications that interact with alcohol should be particularly cautious about mixing alcohol and exercise.
At University Hospitals, our sports dietitians provide medical nutrition therapy for all athletes, from Pee Wee to Pro. We focus on behavioral and lifestyle changes that positively affect health and athletic performance, including nutrition assessment, diagnosis, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Learn more.