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. It’s something that’s on people’s minds more than ever, thanks to the fact that pub gardens and gyms reopened on the same day. Now we’re facing the first post-lockdown bank holiday, where alcohol consumption may be higher than usual, many want to know whether their Sunday evening gin and tonics will be having an impact on their workouts for the rest of the week. 

“I’m worried that this is the weekend my lockdown workout regime will really take a hit,” says Stylist’s digital writer Hollie Richardson. “I have a lot of plans to see people, most of which will involve a drink, and I feel bad about how it’s going to impact my training and progress that I’ve worked hard to achieve.”

There is truth to the fact that alcohol can impact your training as it affects the body as much as it does the mind, so it’s something to consider if you have serious workout goals. 

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 probably isn’t the best way to spend your post-lockdown weekend. While the best thing for your exercise regime may be going teetotal, a nice glass of red with your dinner or a relaxing gin and tonic on a Friday night won’t ruin all of your progress.

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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