A person drinks a glass of white wine.
Centr Team

How does alcohol really affect your fitness?

Centr Team

While we’ve been busy doing more at-home workouts, more baking and putting in more video calls with family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another thing many of us have been doing more of – drinking.

You’ve probably seen the figures: while retail sales overall have plummeted, sales of alcohol in the USA are up across the board. The same goes for the UK, Canada, Australia, and beyond.

It’s no secret that alcohol has an effect on our weight loss goals. But what are the implications of this apparent spike in alcohol consumption on our fitness and physical performance? With so many of us embarking on a new fitness journey during this time, are we undoing all of our hard work if we’re enjoying an extra few drinks each week?

We turned to Advanced Sports Dietitian Lisa Middleton to talk us through what a tipple can mean for your training.

1. The big one – reduced muscle building

The main concern for athletes and anyone training to improve their fitness when it comes to drinking? “Even small amounts of alcohol can have an impact on muscle protein synthesis,” says Lisa.

In fact, alcohol can suppress your body’s entire anabolic (building) response – reducing testosterone, increasing cortisol, and decreasing muscle protein synthesis by a third. That means there’s a big old roadblock in your body’s process of repairing and building muscle – and it can last for 2-3 days. “Not ideal if you are trying to improve strength, functional fitness and gain muscle mass,” says Lisa.

2. A higher risk of injury

As we all know, alcohol can also impair judgment, “putting you at greater risk of injury and thus reducing your training time,” says Lisa.

3. The wrong kind of hydration

“Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes your body to produce urine,” says Lisa. “And if you don’t replace all that sodium and water you’re expelling, you become dehydrated.” This impairs your body’s ability to regulate heat, meaning you tire more easily during workouts, and can cause muscle cramps.

4. Inflammation impacts your recovery

Alcohol is a vasodilator, which means it dilates or opens your blood vessels. “This can make post-exercise inflammation worse and impair soft tissue repair, impacting your recovery,” says Lisa.

A selection of high and low calorie alcoholic drinks.

Did you know that there are calories hiding in your drink?

5. You’re gaining body fat

Not only are you taking in extra calories while you’re drinking, “when your liver is busy metabolizing alcohol, it's not burning fat as efficiently,” Lisa explains.

6. You make poor food choices

“When your judgment is impaired by alcohol, you’re more likely to reach for quick-fix foods,” says Lisa. And usually, they’re of the deep-fried and unhealthy variety.

7. All sleep is not created equal

Alcohol may lead you to crash fast when your head hits the pillow, “but it affects your sleep quality, which in turn impacts your recovery,” says Lisa.

8. More fatigue = less gains

Combined with its sleep-impacting and dehydrating effects, “alcohol leaves you fatigued, meaning you can't push yourself as hard and diminishing your training outcomes,” says Lisa.

As an adult, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink responsibly. However, if you are working hard toward a fitness goal, it’s worth weighing the enjoyment of that extra glass against the benefits of everything you’re training to achieve.

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