As promised in the previous post, a more serious look at alcohol and exercise awaits you below.
The thing is, people drink alcohol. Beer. Wine. Spirits. Sometimes they mix them with sugary juices or pop making them even more healthy than they were solo. So it totally makes sense to wonder about how exercise and fitness relates to alcoholic beverages especially if you consider that a lot of people work out too (maybe not as many as those who get a little boozy, but a noteworthy amount to be sure).
If you’ve ever had a drink after a medium-intense workout, you might have noticed that it doesn’t quench any thirst you might have had. Alcohol dehydrates, meaning pound water before you pound a pint of Delirium (or whatever your high-brow Belgian beer of choice might be). Notice that I don’t say you cannot or even should not drink after working out. Honestly, I’ve returned from a six to eight mile run and lazily sipped a beer while making dinner or yes, even in the shower, and I’m going to put it out there: having a drink after a great workout is downright relaxing.
To be fair, having a drink after sweating up a small flood does have one potentially negative point (and this is me speaking from personal experience and found no information about this online): it’s possible you’ll notice the effect of alcohol on your mind and body more quickly than usual. I chalk this up to having just sweat up a storm, plus having spent a significant amount of time without food since I tend not to eat prior to running.
But what of alcohol not in the after-exercise timeline of your day? What about a few drinks during the week and a few more on the weekend? Well, there’s a few points to consider. The New York Times put out an article earlier this year which looked at whether exercise was like to cause you to drink more alcohol, and according to The American Journal of Health Promotion’s recent study, the answer is yes. Even the researchers conducting the study were surprised by this notion. Typically unhealthy habits in people are static across the board (ie: smoking does not promote exercise). Yet, many people who drank heavily or binge drink were also big into the workout scene. Benefits of working out include creating new brain cells, whereas costs of drinking are losing braincells. A little neuroprotection, perhaps?
Interestingly, alcohol actually hinders your body’s ability to increase muscle mass. According to AskMen.com, “When you consume alcohol, however, a substance is produced in the liver that is toxic to the release of testosterone. This substance decreases the concentration of testosterone in the body, resulting in lower muscle mass and definition.” I feel like you’d have to be drinking one hell of a lot for this to actually be a problem, but it’s worth pointing out. And according to Bill Strauss on Squidoo, alcohol doesn’t simply lower testosterone but also up estrogen, negatively affects protein synthesis, and increases fat storage.
While there seems to be a lot of un-notated information about drinking and building muscle, I couldn’t find much in the way of saying “Hey, yah! This is totally true as said by doctors and sourced material!” The University of Notre Dame does have a section of their Athletics page devoted to this topic, and they do also mention losing testosterone. For the more science-minded, they say,
In order to build bigger and stronger muscles, your body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol’s effect on sleep, your body is deprived of a chemical called human growth hormone or HGH. HGH is part of the normal muscle building and repair process and the body’s way of telling itself your muscle needs to grow bigger and stronger. Alcohol however can decrease the secretion of HGH by as much as 70%.
When alcohol is in your body, it triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is directly toxic to testosterone. Testosterone is essential for the development and recovery of your muscles. As alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine and into your cells, it can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles’ source of energy…
This breakdown makes more sense in my humble opinion, and seems a little more plausible to boot.
So alcohol and exercise: well, if you’re not trying to be an Ultimate Fighter or bodybuilder or collegiate level athlete, I think you’re probably fine. But remember, moderation. All good things come in moderation. Wait no. But all things that are good are in moderation. Or something like that. I think I got drunk on all this booze talk.