The other day someone asked me about if having a drink after working out is really going to affect their fitness progress “that much.” My answer was yes- ideally you avoid any alcohol after your bust your butt in the gym. I’d like to think this is common sense but sometimes we tell ourselves things that we know aren’t true to make us feel better (I'm guilty of this too). This question likely came up because there were some articles floating around supporting drinking and exercising as a benefit. So, I started digging around to see what the story was. Here are some of the claims I found….
“The combination of red wine + working out can be beneficial to your heart.”
“Wine and beer consumption increase endorphins.”
“Beer could be better than a protein shake.”
So, let’s break it down. The first claim was pulled from a study that compared 2 groups: the first group included individuals who drank red wine 5 days/week + exercising and the second group compared just drinking wine. They found that the first group had decreased their cholesterol levels. They concluded that this was due to the combination but there are many flaws in this study and anyone who understand research would agree. Exercise is well known to be beneficial to our hearts and cholesterol levels. So in this case there’s no way to understand if it was the red wine or the exercise or in fact the combination. What they should have done is included a third group of just exercisers. So, this claim has no validity.
The second claim doesn’t even have to do with physiology- more behavior. The article claimed that a beer or glass of wine post workout will release feel good hormones, endorphins, and act as a reward to motivate you to go to the gym the next time. While I’m a huge supporter in creating behaviors and rewards- alcohol post workout should not be a habit you’re trying to support. Exercise naturally releases endorphins providing a positive post-workout feel to motivate you to go the next time. Rewards are important when building habits but please choose rewards that aren’t counter intuitive.
As far as “beer could be better than a protein shake” … please. The first sentence I read supporting this claim literally had me laughing out loud. The claim is supporting by the fact that beer has some nutrients and protein and fiber. While this may be true- the ‘nutrients and protein’ beer contains is a very small fraction of what you’ll find in a protein shake.
So now that we have that squared away, what is the science saying about the effect alcohol has on fitness? Well, I think you can see where I’m going with this and if your goals include “toning up,” increasing strength or muscle mass don’t drink post workout if you can avoid it!
Alcohol affects muscle growth in two main ways- first is the effect on protein turnover and the second is hormonal. Protein turnover is the combination of creation of new protein and breakdown of old protein in the muscle. This is a natural process that occurs in the body. To achieve muscle growth of course you’d want your body creating protein faster than breaking down protein. Alcohol suppressing the protein creation process as much as 30%. The hormones that are effected by alcohol are growth hormone and luteinizing- both involved in muscle growth and fat loss. Both of which are negatively impacted when alcohol follows a workout.
Alcohol can impair muscle recovery and can impair performance in the gym. For optimal results alcohol, would be avoided all together. However, if you still want to enjoy a night out or a few glasses a wine then try to separate your heavy resistance training by at least 24 hours. I would still recommend some light activity or cardio training on days to at least achieve a good calorie burn- just don’t expect to build up muscle mass or tone up if you’re drinking most days/night of the week even if it is just a couple.
So there you have it. Although it’d be nice to tell ourselves that we really “deserve that glass of wine or beer,” wouldn’t you rather see your hard work pay off?
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As always if you have any questions about this or another topic please don’t hesitate to reach out!