Does Alcohol Cancel the Benefits of Your Workout?

Can you balance drinking with your workout routine? Read on to find out.

Jay Carediello - About.com - Does Alcohol Cancel Out the Benefits of Your Workout

We live in a society where being healthy and looking good are desirable and beneficial goals to work towards. We’ve become aware of the importance of diet and exercise for our health. Despite this, drinking has become a staple of our culture where meeting for drinks has become a cultural norm for socialization. You know alcohol isn’t great for your body but you secretly hope there’s a drink that can mitigate the damage of a night out on the town.

Could there be a happy marriage between your new workout routine and boozing?

Well, alcohol and workouts go together about as well as sushi and the stomach flu. Whether you’re just having one drink or getting bombed, alcohol will somehow affect your body. The greatest effects of alcohol are felt by your entire body, especially your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, muscles, and immune system. Alcohol promotes weight gain with its empty calories, disrupts your sleep patterns and hormonal balance, and reduces muscle growth by lowering levels of growth hormone and testosterone.

Serving Size

Controlling the amount that you drink is important since oversized and mixed drinks create a distorted view of the standard drink size. One standard drink is considered to be about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. In terms of typical beverages, one drink would mean 12 fluid ounces of beer (roughly 5% alcohol), 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor (roughly 7% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (roughly 12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (roughly 40% alcohol).

If you choose to drink, the USDA recommends no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

Empty Calories

We tend to overlook the fact that alcoholic beverages have calories with few to no nutrient value. This can turn a few drinks at the bar into an empty calorie trap leading to unwelcome weight gain.

In general, men tend to consume about 150 calories a day from alcoholic beverages, nearly 3 times the amount of alcoholic calories consumed by women. Studies show that alcoholic calories consumed drops with age, with men aged 20-39 averaging drinking 174 calories a day, men aged 40-59 averaging 157 calories a day, and men aged 60 and over averaging 96 calories a day.

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink for men. Regular beer has about 153 calories in a 12 oz serving and about 103 calories in a light beer. Distilled spirits like gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila, brandy, and cognac have about 97 calories per 1.5 oz serving, and liqueurs have about 165 calories per 1.5 oz serving. Red wine has about 125 calories per 5 oz serving and white wine has about 121 calories for the same amount. Sweet wines are significantly higher in caloric content.

Alcohol Sabotages Muscle Growth

During a session of intense exercise, such as resistance training, your muscle fibers get traumatized and damaged.

Your body has to repair the damaged muscle fibers, and it forms new strands of muscle proteins in the process. This is the process of muscle growth. Since your muscles repair themselves while your body is at rest, it’s crucial to get enough quality sleep. Protein consumption and proper nutrition are also important to provide your muscles with the building blocks they need to grow.

Various hormones and hormone-like substances can increase muscle fiber growth, such as growth hormone and testosterone. The roles of growth hormone and testosterone have been widely recognized in the bodybuilding world for increasing muscle mass and bone density and improving fat metabolism. Growth hormone also helps maintain the health of all tissues and organs in the body. Testosterone also improves muscle strength, tissue growth, and synthesis of muscle proteins.

Resistance exercise triggers the release of growth hormone during sleep, but any interruption to sleep patterns inhibits the release of growth hormone. Research shows that alcoholic consumption interferes with the body’s natural sleep cycle, making alcohol a suppressant to growth hormone release.

Significantly lowered testosterone levels and hormone imbalances are connected with alcohol consumption, resulting from an occasional drink, short-term drinking, or long-term alcoholism. The body normally corrects low testosterone levels via a hormonal feedback mechanism regulated by various reproductive hormones. Alcohol alters the levels of these reproductive hormones and suppresses testosterone synthesis in the testes. It also triggers the synthesis of a substance in the liver which is toxic to testosterone. The end result is an overall drop in testosterone levels because of alcohol.

Bottom Line

With alcohol being at the center of various celebrations and social events, it’s not easy to avoid drinking altogether.  If you choose to drink, your best bet is to choose an alcoholic drink lower in calories and mix it with seltzer or club soda. Diluting a drink with one of these fizzy alternatives is a great calorie-cutting trick. Beware of mixed drinks as they often combine a few servings of various alcoholic beverages with sugary beverages such as sodas or juices, which can expand your waistline with all the unnecessary calories. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and try to keep your alcohol to a minimum to reduce the severity of unwanted side effects. Now that you know how alcohol can work against your workout, make sure you choose your drinks wisely!

Sources:

Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Nov 2015.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.  

Alcohol and the Male Reproductive System.  Emanuele MA, Emanuele N.  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.  

Alcohol Calorie Calculator.  National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.

Beyond Hangovers:  Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on Your Health.  National Institute on alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Oct 2015.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.  

Effect of Testosterone on Muscle Mass and Muscle Protein Synthesis.  Forbes G, Griggs RC, Halliday D, Herr BE, Jozefowicz RF, Kingston W.   US National Library of Medicine, Jan 1989.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.

Healthy Aging: Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Does it Slow Aging? Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Feb 2014.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.  

HGH and Alcohol.  HGH.ORG, 2015.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.  

How do Muscles Grow?  Kravitz L, Kwon Y.  University of New Mexico.  Web.  28 Dec 2015.  

NCHS Data Brief: Calories Consumed from Alcoholic Beverages by U.S. Adults, 2007 – 2010.  Fakhouri T, Kit B, Ogden C, Nielsen S.  No. 110.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Nov 2012.  Web.  28 Dec 2015. 

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