Expert Answers: How Does Alcohol Affect My Workout?

Wondering if you should hit the gym after a drink or two? Here’s what the research says.

Q | I sometimes have a couple of drinks before working out. Could that affect my performance?

A | Studies exploring the effects of drinking on fitness performance are inconclusive, says Matthew Barnes, PhD, senior lecturer in the School of Sport and Exercise at New Zealand’s Massey University and a leading researcher on the connection between sports and alcohol consumption.

In the short term, alcohol presents several concerns: If it accumulates in the bloodstream — which for most people happens if they consume more than one to two drinks over the course of an hour, says Barnes — reaction time and coordination nosedive. This makes any activity, including exercise, potentially dangerous and will limit how much you get out of your workout.

If you do decide to work out after a couple of drinks (it’s wise to skip it altogether if you have more than that), take the following precautions:

Eat something, preferably a snack that includes protein, carbs, and healthy fat. This slows alcohol absorption.

Hydrate, aiming to drink at least one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume. Dehydration is a side effect of drinking alcohol, and it can contribute to fatigue, cramping, and overall poor performance.

“We don’t know the long-term effects of alcohol consumption on adaptation to various forms of exercise,” says Barnes.

Research does show that drinking to excess can disrupt hormones and nutrient absorption, lead to weight gain and digestive troubles, and interfere with sleep. Women are more vulnerable to these effects, studies conclude. (Learn more at “The Sipping Point“.)

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Lauren Bedosky is a health and fitness writer based in Minnesota.

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