If pressed to think about it, most people would say that alcohol and exercise don’t necessarily mix well.
Exercising after drinking or when hungover can compromise your performance and be extremely uncomfortable, if not dangerous.
But what about drinking after working out? Is a post-workout drink okay? What are the effects of drinking alcohol after a workout?
In this article, we will discuss the effects of drinking alcohol after a workout to help you decide if your post-workout drink is sabotaging your results.
We will cover:
- Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol After Working Out?
- The Effects Of Drinking Alcohol After A Workout
- How Much Alcohol After Working Out Can You Drink?
- Tips for Reducing the Consequences of Drinking After a Workout
Let’s jump in!
Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol After Working Out?
Drinking beer after a workout or having any other type of post-workout drink sounds pretty counterintuitive.
We tend to assume that all gym goers, runners, and fitness fanatics are health nuts who rarely indulge in any type of food or drink that doesn’t directly improve their health.
However, many recreational and competitive athletes enjoy an occasional (or frequent!) drink as much as the average person who does little exercise.
In fact, a study found that, as a group, frequent exercisers tend to drink more alcohol than non-exercisers.
There are even plenty of obstacle races and marathons that celebrate crossing the finish line with a post-race beer, and there are the beginnings of a wine yoga craze starting to take root.
In addition to these more official post-workout drinking opportunities, plenty of people who exercise after work find themselves wanting a glass of wine or a cold beer after a workout.
A drink or two after exercise is usually tolerable for the body with minimal negative effects as long as you do all the post-workout recovery steps your body needs, like rehydrating fully and refueling with adequate protein and carbohydrates.
With that said, drinking a lot of alcohol after working out can be detrimental to your workout recovery, overall health, and potential fitness gains.
The Effects Of Drinking Alcohol After A Workout
One of the common queries from people who want to enjoy a post-workout drink is, “Does drinking after a workout ruin it?”
In other words, does drinking alcohol after exercise negate potential benefits or gains from your workout?
Here are some of the effects of drinking alcohol after exercise:
#1: Alcohol Impairs Muscle Growth and Recovery
Although there’s a lot of research about the effects of drinking alcohol before exercise, there’s not a ton of research on the effects of drinking alcohol after working out.
With that said, there have been a few studies that indicate that alcohol can impair the recovery process and muscle protein synthesis.
Indeed, the findings from these studies don’t bode well for those who don’t want to drink alcohol after working out to negate the hard work they’ve just done in the gym.
For example, one study looked at the effect of alcohol consumption on rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis (also called muscle protein synthesis, or MPS) following strenuous exercise.
MPS is the process by which muscle fibers that have been damaged during exercise are repaired and thickened, which leads to muscle growth and increases in strength.
In the study, subjects were split into three groups: a group that consumed 25 g of whey protein right after the workout, a group that consumed 25 g of whey protein plus alcohol drinks right afterward, and a group that consumed an equal number of calories of carbohydrates instead of protein plus the alcohol right afterward.
All groups had a high-carbohydrate meal 2 hours after the workout.
All subjects had an increased MPS rate after the workout, but the rate of myofibrillar protein synthesis was significantly impaired in both alcohol conditions relative to the whey protein alone group.
MPS in the group that had alcohol after the workout plus protein experienced 24% lower MPS rates, while those who ingested alcohol along with carbohydrates instead of protein saw a 37% reduction in MPS.
Therefore, while these results do not indicate that drinking alcohol after a workout completely negates the benefits of the exercise session (because MPS was still elevated above baseline), they do indicate that drinking alcohol after working out attenuates potential muscle gains.
Furthermore, myofibrillar protein synthesis isn’t just required for hypertrophy (muscle growth); it’s also the exact same process required for muscle repair and recovery.
Therefore, drinking alcohol immediately after a workout can impede your recovery process and subsequent performance the next day. If your muscles haven’t fully repaired, you won’t be able to exercise as intensely.
Another study demonstrated similar findings, noting that men experienced a particularly pronounced decrease in muscle protein synthesis when alcohol was consumed after resistance training compared to women.
Because the hormonal profiles of men and women are quite different, and men have higher levels of anabolic hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, it might be that drinking alcohol after working out has a more appreciable impact on MPS for men.
#2: Alcohol Inhibits Human Growth Hormone and Testosterone
Human growth hormone is one of the key hormones that promote muscle growth and positive adaptations to exercise training, such as increases in strength, increases in bone density, and increases in cellular turnover and repair.
Resistance training, in particular, stimulates the secretion of human growth hormone.
However, evidence suggests that drinking alcohol after working out can suppress the endogenous production of human growth hormone as well as testosterone, attenuating the positive effects of resistance training workouts on muscle growth and strength adaptations.
#3: Alcohol May Reduce Glycogen Replacement
There’s also some evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol immediately after endurance exercise can impair glycogen resynthesis.
Endurance exercise depletes muscle and liver glycogen stores, as glycogen molecules are broken down to glucose and oxidized to generate ATP to fuel the muscles.
After a workout, consuming a post-workout meal or snack high in carbohydrates provides the body with the glucose molecules that get linked together to create new glycogen molecules.
This glycogen can then replenish the depleted liver and muscle glycogen stores.
The good news is that while studies show that the rate of glycogen resynthesis may be slowed in the short term by 24 hours post-workout, glycogen stores seem to return to normal as long as adequate nutrition was consumed over that recovery period.
How Much Alcohol After Working Out Can You Drink?
It probably comes as no surprise that the amount of alcohol you consume after a workout plays a significant role in how much that post-workout drink will affect your body and impede your gains.
The more you drink, the more deleterious the effects will be.
Drinking a beer after exercise may have little to no effect if it is combined with adequate proteins and carbohydrates to refuel your body.
For example, one study found that consuming 28 g of alcohol after exercise, which is approximately equivalent to two beers, had no effect on the rates of liver protein synthesis.
On the other hand, another study found that consuming 71 g of alcohol, which is roughly equivalent to the amount found in five beers, did significantly impair the rates of liver protein synthesis.
There are a few other things to be mindful of in terms of your consumption of alcohol and its effects on your exercise performance.
Although there’s no indication as to the temporal component—whether drinking after working out, beforehand, or at some other point in the day—studies have found that athletes who consume alcohol at least once a week have over twice the injury rates as non-drinkers.
It would be fraught with assumptions to say that this is a causative relationship, but it’s reasonable to hypothesize that the fact that alcohol can impair muscle recovery may have something to do with the increased risk of injuries.
Finally, keep in mind that alcohol could be dehydrating, especially when you consume drinks that have a higher percentage of alcohol (ABV).
Your cells and tissues need fluids after exercise in order to replace those lost in sweat.
Dehydration can compromise your recovery from exercise, so if you’re going to be drinking alcohol as part of your post-workout refueling, make sure you are consuming enough water and electrolytes alongside your alcoholic beverage.
Tips for Reducing the Consequences of Drinking After a Workout
Here are a couple of tips for reducing the negative effects of drinking alcohol after workout out:
#1: Focus On Fluids
As mentioned, alcohol is very dehydrating, so a good rule of thumb is to pair each alcoholic drink with 8 to 12 ounces of water to offset the diuretic effects of the alcohol.
#2: Wait At Least One Hour
The first hour immediately after your workout is the most crucial recovery window.
If possible, try to hold off on drinking alcohol within this golden hour. This will give your muscles a head start on the recovery process before you add alcohol to the equation.
#3: Focus On Post-Workout Nutrition
If you are going to drink alcohol after working out, make sure you are just adding it to your post-workout fueling rather than using it as a substitute for something more nutritious.
Drink plenty of hydrating water or electrolyte beverages, and eat an ample amount of protein and carbohydrates in your post-workout meal or snack.
Finally, although having a couple of drinks occasionally after a workout is probably not going to have a significant impact on your fitness improvements, try not to make it an everyday habit.
For some excellent snacks for runners, check out our guide to refuel properly after your next workout.