Pint of beer

How alcohol affects your body and fitness goals

5 min read

|

03 Aug 2023

Grab your cheat sheet

  1. It can hinder your recovery
  2. It will dehydrate your body
  3. It can affect your schedule and performance
  4. It can cause weight gain
  5. You are at greater risk of injury

Achieving your fitness goals in the shortest possible time means making sacrifices, which can mean a huge lifestyle change for some. 

Going from the party lifestyle, drinking most nights and getting very little sleep to being a disciplined gym-goer is a huge step. On the other hand, some don’t feel the need to give up the booze and see the exercise they do as a way of “negating” the effect of alcohol. 

How often have you heard someone say they’ll have another beer or glass of wine but assure you it’s okay as they’ll “work it off” at the gym the next day? 

The problem with this is that if we want to progress, trying to negate the effect of alcohol the next day is pretty much like running on the spot. We’ll end up in the same place instead of taking a step toward our goal. 

A recent study in America suggested that those who frequent the gym tend to drink more than those who don’t. Some gyms even incorporate bars, which doesn’t help. Alcohol will hang around in your system for a couple of hours after consumption, and during that time, it will be processed by your liver and then make its way around your body, reaching almost every organ. 

So are we just “working off” the drink, or does it have so little effect that it’s not worth worrying about? 

Alcohol can hinder your recovery…

Drinking alcohol can affect your body’s inflammatory response to a workout, affecting how quickly you can recover from torn muscles. If you want to gain strength, you’ll need your muscles to repair, and the longer they take to repair, the longer you’ll have to wait for your next workout. 

To put it simply, your body will prioritize processing the alcohol above repairing the microtears in your muscles. And it’s not just the muscles; your energy can be affected too. When you work out, your body depletes its glycogen stores, and alcohol will impede that process. Studies have shown that those who drink regularly are twice as likely to get injured as those who don’t. 

Alcohol will dehydrate your body...

Topping up with water before, during and after exercise is a no-brainer. With your body losing water through sweat, it must be replenished to avoid dehydration. 

So - let’s face it- if you combine alcohol and exercise, you’re preparing for a crash.

Man drinking bottle of water

If you’re a regular drinker, you can expect to dehydrate much faster with alcohol in your system. Once again, this will hinder your recovery as you need adequate water in your approach to prepare for your next workout and avoid fatigue. Trying to work out when you’re tired will only turn into a downward spiral, and you’ll not have the focus or strength to push yourself hard. 

Alcohol can affect your schedule and performance…

Alcohol can seriously derail your attempts to progress and keep on track with your workout schedule. We must always consider the time of day we can work out, and incorporating alcohol into our week can make it difficult to sustain these specific times. 

Trying to work out when hungover isn’t the best idea, as you’ll be working through an already dehydrated body and one which will be depleted of energy. This will mean it’ll be doubtful you’ll be able to smash your workout. 

Alcohol can cause weight gain

Moving forward with our fitness goals means more than just pumping iron; we must watch our diet, too, which means counting the macros. Alcoholic drinks rarely feature in “Best Ten healthy drinks” lists; for a good reason- they’re packed full of sugar.

Overweight man standing on scales

Even if you’re dirty bulking, alcohol is a poor choice as there are no nutritional benefits, and the calories packed on might be hard to shift. 

You are at greater risk of injury

Having alcohol in our system means our bodies are compromised in many ways. Slower reactions, balance, coordination and a slower thought process can lead to dangerous situations. Even the next day, when we feel we’ve sobered up, we can still feel its effects. One wrong move can set you back weeks if not months, and you need your head entirely in the game to complete your schedule on time. 

Should you drink alcohol if you have fitness goals

Some people have a lower tolerance level to alcohol and can drink more without it interfering with their balance and coherency, but it doesn’t negate its effect on the body. For example, drinking alcohol immediately after a workout is a serious “no” if you want your muscles to strengthen and repair quickly. 

Consuming alcohol regularly will mean you’ll dehydrate more quickly and feel more lethargic when working out. It can also affect workouts, especially if you don’t feel like going to the gym because you’re too hungover. It can also prove harder to shift the weight if you add all those extra alcoholic calories into your diet. Perhaps worst of all, the risk of injury is higher. Not just because alcohol affects the recovery process, and you might try to move on too quickly, but your thought process and reactions might also be impaired.  

So does this mean you must go teetotal to pursue your goals? 

Not at all, unless you’re consuming the wrong food types too. So long as you’re following a healthy, nutritional diet packed with carbs, proteins and healthy fats, the odd drink or two will not set you back in your goals. 

Yes, it’s a great idea to give up alcohol entirely for your body and mind, but there’s nothing wrong with having a drink or two during the week if you schedule it at the right time. Do not drink the night before a big workout or too soon after one. Allow your body a window to prepare and repair before allowing alcohol into the system. If you have a drink, replenish the system with plenty of water to try to rehydrate as soon as possible.

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