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Does Drinking Alcohol Ruin Your Gains?

Does Drinking Alcohol Ruin Your Gains?

August 01, 2020 / Patrick Zavorskas

It is the peak of the summer - the days are getting longer, the weather may break into uncomfortable territory, and somehow the only way to manage is going out to a brunch or two with a group of your friends for the perfect crafted cocktail - and sure, you can say you have earned it after you spent all spring working on your beach body or even maintaining your fitness regime in the blistering summer days, but did you actually think about how the alcohol might be ruining your gains?

The good news is, drinking one glass of wine, beer, or whatever isn't truly going to hurt you that much. There are actually numerous athletes who swear that a sixteen-ounce IPA or beer makes for the perfect recovery drink - (hey, don't knock it until you try it - there might be a reason why many runners, cyclists and triathletes say is the reason they are racing in the first place). But if you are curious on how alcohol affects your fitness gains, check out our mini-guide below.

Alcohol And Performance

It is an interesting and strange idea to think that indulging in a 16-ounce IPA after a workout might be a reputable practice, but it should be known that it probably won’t negate all that hard work you just put in towards your fitness goals. However, if your goal is increasing performance and strength, it is actually best to limit your alcohol intake after working out - even if you don’t eliminate it entirely. It is found that alcohol can slow your protein synthesis, the process in your body that aids muscle growth, and can increase dehydration. If you’re indulging in heavy drinking after working out, like, for example, men in a 2014 researching how, "Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates," the ill effects on protein synthesis can be found in extreme. This said, it is also critical to know that in other studies, some have shown moderate drinking, usually defined as one drink for women and two drinks for men, showed almost no difference in recovery. It also may depend on how physically fit you are, how hydrated you are, how often you normally drink, and your sex. 

As for the myth about drinking beer post-race because it has carbohydrates, you can actually pass on that one. Beer doesn’t have enough carbs or electrolytes to make any measurable difference.

While alcohol might not totally ruin your athletic performance, it could be prohibiting your weight loss. If you’re imbibing in multiple drinks several times a week, you’re adding loads of empty calories to your diet that are also hard to track. Mostly, this type of drinking can encourage other bad habits like opting for those late-night snack options or taking away from some much needed sleep.

Most people associate calories with food, but alcohol is one of the most calorie-dense substances out there. Needless to say, over-drinking can be worse than over-eating. Here is the average amount of calories broken down by type of drink:

Beer: 220 calories

Glass of Wine: 90 calories

Shot of 80 Proof Vodka: 96 calories

To put that in context, drinking three beers is the caloric equivalent of eating three donuts. Liquor may have fewer calories, but once you add in mixers the calorie count skyrockets.

Margarita: 350 calories

Soda: 150 calories

Lemonade: 100 calories

What Is The Best Scenario? 

Although, while it might sound appealing, for maximum recovery, it might be better to wait to have your cocktail until you’re done properly re-hydrating and refueling on protein. If you’re only indulging occasionally, it could be what you’re drinking that’s the problem. Typical cocktail ingredients like juice and soda are high in sugar, upping the calorie count of each beverage. Choose a light beer or a vodka and soda with a squeeze of citrus, instead. Be sure to balance it out with  a full glass of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed.

Here’s the bottom line: drinking alcohol will not entirely mess up your gains. You just need to remember three quick tips:

  1. Your first drink after the gym should be protein, not booze.
  2. The more time between exercise and drinking, the easier it is to build muscle.
  3. The less alcohol you drink, the quicker your muscles recover.

Happy working out!

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