How does alcohol affect strength training?

Posted by for Life

Beyond the sore head and reluctant attitude the following day, alcohol does actually affect your exercise more than you might have thought. Maybe dry January is a good idea after all…

Alcohol has played quite a big role in many of our lockdown experiences, with one in five adults drinking alcohol more often than pre-pandemic, according to charity Alcohol Change. But now that January is here, many people are making the promise to avoid drinking – even if just for a month. 

While no one wants to work out with a groggy head after too many glasses of wine, the consequences of drinking are larger than just that. Alcohol affects the body as much as it does the mind, so there will be an impact on your strength and training too. 

So, if you have serious workout goals for the new year, you might want to read more about the link between training and drinking. We asked the experts for the lowdown on what is really going on – here’s what they said.  

How does alcohol impact exercise?

It goes without saying that alcohol doesn’t leave you feeling refreshed enough to train at full capacity, but it also impacts recovery. “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.”

Being under-recovered will mean your body is not 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 obviously going to delay your training even more,” says Tess.

Can you sweat out a hangover?
Can you sweat out a hangover?

Does alcohol impact muscle building?

It’s not just the performance during your exercise that will be effected, either: drinking alcohol can actually reduce the positive takeaways of exercise. As well as the fact that you won’t be able to lift as heavy, and therefore putting less stress on your body to grow more muscle, the alcohol itself can impact your muscle growth. 

Alcohol reduces muscle protein synthesis, the process responsible for adaptation, repair and regeneration of muscle,” explains Emma Obayuvana, member of the Strong Women Collective. “So yes, muscle growth and muscle recovery are affected by drinking alcohol.”

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. So while the best thing for you and your exercise regime may be to go tee-total, 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. Just remember: everything in moderation. 

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

Share this article