Friends cheersing wine glasses in a pub garden after lockdown.

Strength training: how does alcohol affect exercise and fitness progress?

Posted by for Life

The impact of alcohol goes beyond a hangover. Here’s how drinking can impact your strength training and fitness goals…

No one wants to work out with a groggy head after too many glasses of wine, but whether or not you chose to work out with a hangover is just one part of the big relationship between drinking and training. Given that it’s Christmas, a time associated with overconsumption, your alcohol intake may be higher than usual. But if you want to maintain your exercise routine over the festive period or just ensure that you aren’t stopping for nausea breaks on your Christmas day run, you need to know how drinking will impact your workouts

How does alcohol impact exercise?

Alcohol doesn’t leave you feeling refreshed enough to train at full capacity, even a few days after you drink. But there’s a downside to having a glass of wine (or more) post-training, as well as before. “Your body takes about one hour to break down one unit of alcohol,” explains personal trainer Tess Glynne-Jones. “This delays recovery as your body will be focused on getting the drink out of your system, rather than on rebuilding muscle.” So if you workout in the evening before heading to a dinner with booze, you may not be getting the best from your workout. 

The fact that you’ll then be under-recovered also means your body won’t be in the optimal condition to train again, so sticking with your usual workout schedule could have a negative impact. “If you do push yourself to train at the same intensity without as much recovery, you’re more likely to get sick or injured, which is going to impact your training even more,” says Tess.

A woman lifting weights in the gym
Can alcohol impact strength training and fitness progress?

Does alcohol impact muscle building?

Unfortunately, too much drinking can mean that you don’t grow muscle quite as easily. Not only is this because your performance will be reduced, meaning you can’t lift as heavy, but also “alcohol reduces muscle protein synthesis, the process responsible for adaptation, repair and regeneration of muscle,” explains Emma Obayuvana, trainer from the Strong Women Collective

One study, published in the Public Library of Science, found that protein synthesis was reduced by up to 37% when alcohol was drunk after exercising. The researchers found that alcohol consumption generates oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as disrupts the body’s balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. 

However, the study was mainly investigating the effects of binge drinking, rather than moderate drinking. It’s important to remember that most things are OK in moderation, and turning down social plans so you can focus on muscle growth is also not a healthy way to spend your holidays. While the best thing for your exercise regime may be going teetotal, a nice glass of champagne to toast to the season or a mulled wine at an outdoor market won’t ruin all of your progress.

So, to drink or not to drink? It’s totally up to you, but remember that if you do decide to dabble with a festive cocktail or warm glass of red, you might want to take your training a little slower over the coming days. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

Images: Pexels

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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