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While more than three million Brits will be taking part in Dry January this year, many of us could think of nothing worse than getting through the bleakest month of the year without so much as a tipple.
If you’re in the latter group but have also set yourself fitness goals to kick off the new year, it’s probably worth knowing how alcohol is going to affect your workouts.
Interestingly, Mark Leyshon, senior policy and research officer, at Alcohol Concern said research indicates that those of us who are physically active and play sport tend to drink above average amounts of alcohol.
“The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but may be tied up around ideas of masculinity and peer influences (‘play hard, drink hard’ attitudes), and notions that we’ve ‘earned’ the right to drink heavily after vigorous exercise or that we are immune from the negative effects of alcohol because we regularly exercise,” he said.
All the vital questions about alcohol and working out, answered for you below.
What happens to the body if we work out after drinking?
Mark Leyshon, senior policy and research officer at Alcohol Concern said, as expected, our performance in the gym will be reduced if we head there after a night of boozing.
“Our performance after drinking will be pretty underwhelming,” he said. “Alcohol makes our kidneys produce more urine, causing dehydration which will only be made worse by exercising, leading to reduced performance.”
Dr. Sarah Jarvis, Drinkaware’s medical advisor said on a more detailed level, alcohol interferes with the way the liver releases glucose into the circulation from the body’s stores, which means you have low levels of blood sugar.
This will mean our bodies become more prone to tiredness. Exercise requires high levels of sugar to give you energy, so if your liver isn’t producing enough glucose, your performance will be adversely affected.
“Most worryingly, drinking can increase the potential for unusual heart rhythms,” Dr Jarvis explained. “This is a risk which significantly increases during exercise up to two days after heavy alcohol consumption. This is because the activity itself already increases your heart rate and with a lot of alcohol in your system, you put extra stress on the organ.”
Should we avoid hitting the gym after a drinking session?
Dr Jarvis suggested that if you have a heavy session at the gym or a long training run planned, it’s best to avoid alcohol the night more.
“Apart from the headache, you’re likely to be grumpy and lacking in energy if you’ve been drinking, and it will feel much more hard work than usual,” she said.
Most worryingly, drinking can increase the potential for unusual heart rhythms.' Dr. Sarah Jarvis, Drinkaware’s medical advisor
But also, it could be quite dangerous.
“Even worse is exercising if you still have alcohol in your system,” she added. “You process at a very rough estimate about one unit an hour, and sometimes less. So your co-ordination could be affected, and you’re more likely not to know your limits – for instance, if you’re lifting weights.
“That means you’re much more likely to suffer an injury or strain something, which could put you out of action for a much longer time.”
So we can’t “sweat out” the alcohol?
Quite simply, no. This is a myth, so if you were hoping that forcing yourself out of bed into the gym will magically cure your hangover, sadly, it won’t.
“No amount of exercise can reduce the effects of a hangover, so it’s better to rest and drink plenty of water rather than engaging in vigorous activity,” added Leyshon.
“Exercise can make you feel a bit better after drinking, but it’s not possible to sweat out the alcohol. Only time will get the booze out of your bloodstream.
“Plus your risk of pulling a muscle when you’re working out is greater if you’ve been drinking (even the night before) or if you’re hungover.”
What if we can’t avoid the workout?
“The best advice is to drink plenty of water to reduce fatigue and muscle cramping,” said Leyshon.
“If you’re planning on working out, the best advice is to moderate your alcohol consumption the night before or avoid it altogether.
“It’s also inadvisable to drink heavily post-workout, as alcohol’s diuretic actions may negatively affect muscle recovery and make you feel more tired. Alcohol is also a depressant, meaning the positive mental effects of exercising, like improved mood and reduced stress, may be lost.”
Dr Jarvis added: “It’s also a good idea to stick to low intensity exercise, that doesn’t involve a high level of co-ordination.”