Five Things You Need to Know about Alcohol and Exercise

Fighting & Fitness, Science, the apocalypse, and teaching / Saturday, December 30th, 2017

This post may contain unaffiliated ads. Please see our privacy policy for more information. 

As you start thinking about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s resolutions we’d like to help you gain some knowledge.

Contrary to popular belief, alcoholic beverages and fitness are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many people can have an alcoholic beverage a day and maintain fitness or even lose weight if those calories have been appropriately budgeted. Although I don’t recommend it, I’ve even had weight-loss clients succeed while partying very hard on the weekends (one lost 99 pounds!). They succeeded because they compensated through meal planning and exercise.

When it comes to health, 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day may improve health, but the distribution is important. You cannot hoard your alcohol all week in order to binge on the weekend. This strategy has negative health consequences—not to mention you run the risk of doing something regrettable and looking like a doofus.

Other than hash running clubs, Jack Daniels and getting jacked aren’t commonly thought of in the same vein, so not much has been written about where exercise and alcohol intersect. (For those of you who don’t know, hashers describe themselves as “a drinking club with a running problem.”) So, decided to tackle this topic so you can get a keg up on the competition.


1. You can’t walk it off.

When it comes to alcohol, somebody put the “lies” in “metabolize.” Despite what you hear, alcohol cannot be directly burned by muscle for energy. The only organ in the body that can burn alcohol for energy is the liver. Incidental to fat loss, if your liver is preoccupied by burning alcohol and detoxifying your blood, there’s not much reason for your body to be metabolizing fat at that time. At rest, the liver requires 25% of the body’s blood supply. Exercise increases the blood flow to muscle, and because there is only so much blood to go around, that means less blood flow to the liver. Less blood flow to the liver means less ability to metabolize alcohol because you are diverting blood to the muscles during physical activity. Therefore it’s best to stay put while you sober up, and you’re less likely to fall down stairs and commit other such acts of grace (or, disgrace).


2. Alcohol adds fat around the waistline.

It turns out that the old belief about developing a beer belly actually has some validity. Now that you know that alcohol is metabolized in the liver, if you over consume alcohol in one setting, it turns on fat synthesis in the liver. In other words, if you exceed the energy needs of the liver, it takes those excess calories from alcohol and turns them into fat. It’s simply another route of disposal. It appears, however, that this fat may deposit in the liver and around the organs, remaining relatively localized. This same phenomenon taken to the extreme contributes to fatty liver disease in alcoholics. If you tend to be predisposed to storing weight in your waist, you may want to take a pass on the extra Pabst.


3. Many forms of alcoholic beverages are rich in sugar.

A common misbelief is that all alcoholic beverages are high in sugar, and that simply isn’t true. Beer and wine (dessert wine notwithstanding) have very modest amounts of sugar or carbohydrates. For example, a light beer may have 7 grams of carbs while a regular brewsky may contain 10 g of carbs. A serving of wine typically has just 4 grams of carbohydrate. The stronger the liquor is (the higher the proof), the greater the amount of sugar that has been eliminated by fermentation into alcohol so that almost no carbohydrate remains. Where you have to be careful are products that have had sugar, honey, or juice added to them. This includes cider, shandy, liqueur, and honey whiskey. Fireball, anyone? If you have a drink mixed with soda pop, keep in mind that soda pop has at least 50 g of sugar per can (unless it’s diet). In general, mixed drinks have a variety of syrups or liqueurs in them and are therefore sugar bombs. A giant, 32-ounce frozen margarita may contain 120 grams of sugar! Excess sugar causes fat storage not only from excess calories but from the secretion of insulin that encourages fat storage. Even if you avoid the sugary drinks, alcohol is high in empty calories. For example, a single shot of most unsweetened liquors contains about 100 calories. If you’re looking to get ripped, don’t let your taste for alcoholic beverages sabotage you.


4. Bro, alcohol reduces gainz.

(Ok, it hurt to write that.) It may be tempting to celebrate a hard workout with an adult beverage, and this is especially true if you workout with a group or a team. But, you need to know that those 12-ounce curls may undo your curls in the gym. Researchers have known for some time that alcohol decreases testosterone, but recently it was discovered that alcohol inhibits the mTOR pathway that is stimulated by resistance exercise and is largely responsible for muscle growth. So far, studies have focused on the effects of binge drinking, with one of the more recent human trials providing about 12 standard drinks over several hours. If adequate protein had been consumed after the workout, muscle protein synthesis dropped by 24%. This was further compromised by 37% if no protein was consumed. What has yet to be determined is if more modest alcohol consumption significantly impairs muscle growth.  If you’re going to have a drink, it seems prudent to wait as long as possible after your workout.

5. Alcohol is a diuretic.

A diuretic is something that makes you diurese, or pee. Not only does alcohol make you pee in the most unlikely of places, it makes you pee more in general. This leads to dehydration. All alcoholic drinks with one notable exception cause you to lose more fluid than you consumed. That one exception is beer. Beer is about 95% water, which offsets the water loss induced by the meager 5% alcohol content. Now, when I teach this material, some college student usually pipes up and claims that beer makes them urinate profusely. I have to remind the student that it is likely because he drank a SIX PACK, and of course guzzling that much of any liquid will cause urination. The problem with even mild dehydration, perhaps experienced the evening of drinking or the morning after, is not only does it limit performance, but it reduces protein synthesis, which would limit the repair and growth following a workout. This is on top of the suppressive effect of alcohol on mTOR as described above. To reduce the risk of dehydration compromising performance or recovery, drink other fluids such as water in between your adult beverages, or stick with beer.



We hope you’re glad you stumbled upon this article. When it comes to your health, usually it’s better to have a good head on your shoulders than a good head on your beer. Remember, everything in moderation, except for your health and happiness, which we hope is off the charts! Have you had luck with weight loss while still enjoying drinks? Share your experiences below!


This post may contain affiliate links.

One Reply to “Five Things You Need to Know about Alcohol and Exercise”

Leave a Reply