Think about the last time you competed in an athletic event. Whether the competition was local 5K, a Tough Mudder, or a friendly Saturday morning competition at your CrossFit gym, there’s a strong possibility that alcoholic beverages were involved in the celebration afterward.
Knocking a couple back after a particularly grueling group run or a kick-ass kickboxing class sounds normal to anyone who takes their fitness seriously. In fact, a 2009 study conducted by the white coats at the University of Miami found that frequent exercisers drink more than non-exercisers and found that drinking is associated with a 10% increase in the probability of a person exercising more vigorously. Rewarding yourself with a cold one after exercising thus seems harmless, but will drinking liquor or beer too soon after a workout ruin your gains? Let’s find out below.
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Is Alcohol After a Workout a Bad Idea?
First, let’s address the obvious drawback of drinking alcohol after a workout. Alcohol is full of empty calories. Not only do the 100 or so calories in a glass of wine or the 154 calories in the average beer add up after a few drinks but don’t forget the other side effect of partaking in too much alcohol after exercise. Booze leads to bad food decisions.
Here are some other questions to ask yourself before knocking a couple back after an afternoon Pickleball sesh. How long did you work out, and at what intensity? How are you feeling mentally and physically? Did you properly fuel yourself pre-workout and post-workout, and perhaps the most important question is, “Did you drink enough water?”
“Alcohol is a diuretic which dehydrates your body,” explains registered dietitian Amanda DeMarco. “Most people, prior, during, and after their exercise are not properly hydrated. So if you think of that and then adding alcohol into your system, your body becomes even more dehydrated, preventing protein synthesis (muscle building) and properly refueling your body.”
If you’re already dehydrated and feeling like crap, the alcohol will likely make the ailments even worse, and even the lightest of the best beers isn’t a substitute for plain old H2O. If you’re going to have a few alcoholic drinks after working out, drink a glass of water between each beer or margarita. The extra water will fend off dehydration and possibly help stave off a hangover should you drink a little too much after that 10K.
How Long Should You Wait After a Workout to Have a Drink?
While there isn’t a specific amount of time to wait to drink after exercise, consider these factors. How long did you work out, and at what intensity? Did you properly fuel pre and post-workout, and most importantly, how you feel mentally and physically?
“Will you need to wait two hours if you went for a 15-minute walk on a nice, cool evening before you drink? Probably not. However, if you had an intense hour-long workout where maybe you didn’t drink enough and or didn’t fuel your body properly beforehand, you would need your body time to recover and properly refuel before consuming alcohol,” adds DeMarco.
If they’re going to drink after a workout no matter what, stick to certain types of alcohol.
Explains DeMarco, “All alcohol does have high sugar content, and very high calorie counts for even one drink. If you are looking out for your weight and overall health, there are great options like alcoholic seltzers or even creating a ‘mocktail’ which has fewer calories, and sugar amount can be lower than say beer, wine, and mixed drinks.”
Read more: Best Mocktail Recipes
If You’re Going to Drink After Working Out, Eat This, Too
Massey University in New Zealand has conducted numerous studies on alcohol consumption and its effects on athletic performance. One of the studies found that specific exercises usually result in a temporary loss of strength for a day or two as the muscles rebuild from the damage done during the heavy lifting or resistance training. The male volunteers downed five drinks after these workouts, and researchers found that the participants were even weaker on the days after the workout. Researchers conducted the same study, asking volunteers to only have two and a half
If you’re going to drink alcohol after a workout, try and eat some protein while wetting the whistle. A 2014 study in the PLOS One journal examined multiple alcoholic drinks’ effects on muscle recovery post-workout. Researchers at Australia’s RMIT University took a group of athletes and asked each to drink six Screwdrivers — a classic vodka cocktail involving orange juice — over a three-hour period after working out.
Researchers found that the alcohol caused a 37% drop in each athlete’s protein synthesis rates. However, when the participants were given whey protein shakes along with the Screwdrivers, the caused protein synthesis dipped just 24%. That’s a ton of beverages in a short period of time. Did the researchers also study the rate at which each athlete visited the bathroom?
In conclusion, having a beer or two after working out isn’t the worst sin in the world, and meeting up with the running group or CrossFit crew at the bar after a workout is beneficial to your mental health. The feelings of camaraderie and slight stress reduction after having a drink will go a long way in recovering mentally from a tough day at work or taxing time in your personal life. Just like every other vice in life, remember that moderation is the key when drinking after exercise.
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