Since you all know I don’t drink, I’m happy to have Holly from The Run Experience here to talk on a topic that I know will interest so many of you, alcohol after working out!
Sometimes nothing tastes better after a run than an ice cold beer. Sometimes there’s no better way to wind down at night than with a good glass of wine, especially if we had a good training session that day.
But if we’re serious about achieving our running and fitness goals, is that a problem? More specifically, does alcohol impede our recovery and ultimately stand in the way of our progress?
In this article we take a look at what your body is tasked with when you consume alcohol, and what those processes mean in the grand scheme of your running.
Alcohol & Exercise – The Relationship
Studies have shown a positive relationship between physical activity and alcohol consumption. This means that, of those who drink, those who exercise are more likely to consume alcohol than those who don’t.
There are some chemical explanations proposed in the article linked above, but psychologically it’s fair to say we just want to reward ourselves with that post-run beer, glass of wine, whatever it might be.
And that’s totally fine! We’re not focused on whether you can or can’t drink, that’s your call! Our focus is on recovery nutrition for runners, as we want to keep you moving!
We’re taking a look at what goes on internally when you drink, and how that affects recovery. This way, you’re informed, and can reward yourself in a way that doesn’t set you back as you gear up for your next training session or race.Love your post workout beer? Find out whether it's slowing down your training and recovery! #runchat #fuelyourbody Click To Tweet
Alcohol’s Effect on Energy – Carbs + Fats
Alcohol gets processed by the liver, and this is our body’s first task when we have a drink. That processing requires energy in the form of glucose, our body’s principal energy source.
Because of this, you definitely want to stay away from consuming alcohol during your training session or run. Your body needs that glucose to fuel your muscles and get you through your workout, so don’t let alcohol steal it!
To explain this, let’s look at where our body gets its energy.
You may have heard that “fat is fuel,” which is only partially true. That glucose energy comes mainly from complex carbohydrates, with fats and proteins serving other purposes, and only assisting in the energy department if they’re needed.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose immediately, giving us ready-to-use fuel. The fats, on the other hand, get stored away and used for other things, such as muscle movement and managing inflammation.
The body can turn fat into glucose if and when it needs additional fuel, but fat is not our primary energy source, and ideally we’ll get our energy from carbohydrates, and let fats do their other jobs.
But our ready-to-use glucose runs out a lot faster if the liver is using it to process alcohol, so save your supply for its real goal in a work out – fueling your muscles. That way, that balanced diet you worked so hard to create can accomplish all it needs to, and your meal prepping wasn’t for nothing.
Alcohol’s Effect on Recovery – Protein Synthesis + Muscle Growth
Okay, so now we know, from an internal standpoint, why we shouldn’t drink before or during a training session. But once we’re done, why not?!
And as we said before, we’re not here to tell you “no.” However, just be aware of some of the negative consequences, particularly if you’re trying to build muscle or recover from an injury.
Alcohol affects our protein synthesis.
After a training session, our body utilizes protein to rebuild itself, and to adapt to what we’re demanding of it while training. Alcohol can impede that process, and make it much harder for our muscles to rebuild.
Similarly, alcohol freezes muscle growth if you’re consuming it on a regular basis. So if you’re working hard to build speed or strength, or to make any real changes in the gym, be mindful of your alcohol consumption.
Alcohol’s Effect on Injuries
Alcohol is a vasodilator, which means that it increases blood flow.
While this isn’t always a bad thing, it can make injuries worse. It does this by either increasing swelling at the site of injury, or by numbing pain you would otherwise feel.
Swelling is your body’s way of protecting the injured body part. By compressing nerves around the injured area, which makes you feel pain, your body prevents you from using the injured body part.
Prolonged swelling, however, can decrease a muscle’s ability to activate, so we want to be sure we’re not encouraging prolonged swelling through regular alcohol consumption.
The other way alcohol can impede recovery is by numbing some of the pain you feel. I’m sure we’ve all felt alcohol’s “numbing” effect before. This can be dangerous for our training because it might encourage us to push through and train on an injury that’s not ready for it.
Your body is smart, and sends you natural indicators of when it needs a break – i.e. pain and swelling.
So again, just be aware that regular alcohol consumption can affect your ability to feel those natural cues, and it may lead you to make decisions your body doesn’t exactly agree with.
Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep
Sleep is a key ingredient in muscle repair and muscle growth. More specifically, deep sleep is a key ingredient in those processes.
While alcohol makes us tired, it actually interrupts our deep sleep. One or two drinks likely won’t affect this, and you’ve probably felt how just one or two drinks just sort of mellows you out.
But three or four drinks can actually hinder your deep, beneficial sleep, so try to limit the post-run drinks to just one or two, so that your sleep schedule works like you mean for it to.
You deserve a treat after a tough run, a killer training session, a great race finish, whatever it may be. With this information, you’re now aware of what goes on in your body when you have a few drinks. And with that information, you can make more informed decisions as to how and when you reward yourself with alcohol given your particular goals.
When not to drink?
If you’re working hard in the gym to build muscle or speed, if you’re recovering from an injury, or if you’re working to better your sleep habits, keep in mind that regular alcohol consumption will likely get in the way of you achieving those goals.
But like we said, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. Make smart decisions around how and when to do it, and there should be no reason you can’t make progress toward your goals, and have some fun along the way!
Thanks to Holly for this info!!
Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coaching. Currently, she trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength, and coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community for running training program and workouts. She enjoys writing tips for running to help you become a better, stronger and injury-proof runner.
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