Ever noticed that you’re not as up for a glass of wine after a workout as you normally are? That’s because even a short workout reduces our appetite for alcohol. Here’s why.
Loads of us like a post-work pint or glass of red. Having a drink or two is part of a balanced lifestyle, right? But have you ever noticed how any time you’ve boosted your workout frequency, your appetite for alcohol has reduced? When I started working out on a near-daily basis a few years ago, having been a big drinker at uni, I went from being someone who was at the pub four or five nights a week to someone who barely drank at all. It wasn’t that I no longer wanted to socialise – I just didn’t fancy a drink. Turns out that my experience is far from unique; we really do feel less inclined to booze if we exercise.
A new study has been looking into the relationship between alcohol and exercise, focusing on that most socially lubricated of groups: students. Researchers from Loughborough University have found that students who exercise are less likely to crave alcohol and, as a result, tend to feel more positive.
60 students aged 18-25 were asked to complete an alcohol screening questionnaire which found that they drank ‘hazardous’ amounts of alcohol. They were asked about their favourite drinks before being shown a video designed to increase their alcohol craving (which it did). The group then went on to do a five-minute exercise routine of squats, mountain climbers, push-ups, jumping jacks, heel kicks and sit-ups.
There were also two control groups: one which was asked to colour in a picture book for five minutes, and one that did nothing.
Following all three group sessions (exercise, colouring, doing nothing), all students answered questions about their drinking, alcohol craving, mood and anxiety. The researchers found that the exercise group had significantly lower alcohol cravings compared to the other groups, as well as lower anxiety and a more positive mood. Those who coloured in the picture book felt happier and less anxious than those who did nothing, but their craving for alcohol remained the same.
“This shows that as little as five minutes of exercise could really have a positive effect on your craving to drink, reducing your intake and improving your overall health,” study authors Professor Eef Hogervorst and Aleksandra Gawor wrote in The Conversation.
Why does exercise reduce alcohol appetite?
So why does exercise have this kind of effect on our desire to drink? Well, the study authors pointed to the fact that exercise, like alcohol (at least in the short term), can boost mood and reduce anxiety and that by helping us to release those happy hormones dopamine and serotonin, we end up feeling good in the same that we would after a drink.
But it is also worth pointing out that this study was looking at alcohol cravings among students who were big binge drinkers. Many of us will have been similarly hedonistic when we were at university (it’s not worth thinking about how many units you used to consume before a 3pm lecture!) and believe that we’re now a world away from that kind of reckless behaviour. Nonetheless, it is interesting that even at this extreme end of the scale, that desire to drink less after exercising exists – and after such a tiny space of time.
In the immediate aftermath of exercise, there might also be something in the fact that we’re thirsty and more aware of the need for water rather than a pint.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve ever run a race and made plans to go drinking afterwards, it can be nigh on impossible to have a sip of beer or G&T. That again could be to do with the fact that we’re already high on endorphins, or the fact perhaps that the body knows what it needs – water and fuel – rather than toxins.
Whatever your drinking habits and fitness regime, it’s interesting that even five minutes of movement can help us to make more holistically healthy choices.
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Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.