How to Balance Drinking and Working Out

Look, we all like to have a good time every now and then, and with those good times comes the occasional adult cocktail or drink. While they’re a social staple, they can do some harm to your workout progress.

It’s no secret that excessive drinking isn’t exactly healthy, but can the occasional bottle of beer or glass of wine seriously hurt your exercise regimen? Is there a way to reconcile drinking and fitness in a sustainable and efficient way?

The simplest answer is to stop drinking altogether, but that’s neither practical nor a worthwhile compromise for everyone. Drinking can be a huge part of life that you have to trade in just to maximize your potential in a power rack or on a rowing machine. While there are ways to drink efficiently on your fitness journey, the first step is to understand how alcohol affects your body and how those effects can affect your performance in the gym.

How Alcohol Affects Your Fitness

Alcohol, when consumed in excess, can lead to a number of health problems including liver disease, high blood pressure and more, but we all have it some an understanding of it (thank you, DARE). But in the short term, hangovers are your number one enemy, temporary as they may be. If you’re trying to combat those morning aches and regrets with a day of heavy squats, you may not feel ideal when you hit the bar. There are various reasons for this

Alcohol makes your sleep suffer.

A drink or two can help you fall asleep, but studies have shown that once alcohol is metabolized — which can take hours after you start counting sheep — it can have a negative impact on your REM cycle. This can lead to tired mornings and poorer performance in the gym.

We know the benefits of post-workout recovery and that a rest day is good every now and then. However, if your evening habits result in less efficient sleep, you can’t skip the gym altogether for any length of time.

Alcohol is full of empty calories.

You certainly know that alcohol isn’t exactly a health drink, but it’s important to pay attention to the amount of calories in each drink, especially if your fitness regimen is tied to weight loss goals.

Alcohol itself has calories, there’s a limit to how low-calorie a reasonably strong drink can be. Alcoholic beverages can also vary in terms of caloric intake depending on the amount of sugary additives — a punch has more calories than a mug of whiskey — and nearly all of those calories are “empty,” meaning they have little to no nutritional value. If you’re counting calories and want to stay within your limit, set your planned amount of drinks in advance and adjust your daily intake accordingly.

Alcohol makes it easier to eat poorly.

Alcohol can have a greater impact on your dietary choices, especially after you’ve indulged. Alcohol is a diuretic, and as a result of this dehydration, your body might crave saltier snacks to replenish electrolytes. Additionally, once alcohol enters your system, you are less likely to make healthy food choices, throwing out any dietary restrictions you may have set yourself.

How to stop alcohol from blowing up your fitness routine

There are still ways to enjoy a bubbly beverage without sacrificing the work you’ve put in at the gym. When you plan ahead, not only does a night out have less of an impact on your training goals. Plus, it lets you enjoy the evening knowing you’re not throwing your fitness completely out the window.

Choose the right drinks and set some boundaries.

You already know the importance of having a set of planned goals and expectations for your workout. Well, the same notion applies to your drinking habits. Before you paint the city red, make sure you have a game plan regarding the amount of drinks you will consume and which drinks you will choose.

Light to moderate alcohol consumption — around 14 drinks a week for men and 7 drinks a week for women — can be a good starting point, but it’s also important to consider what you’re ordering. Below are the definitions of a standard beverage according to the CDC:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8 ounces Malt Liqueur (7% alcohol content).
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% ABV).
  • 1.5 ounces or “shot” of 80 proof (40% ABV) distilled spirits or spirits (e.g. gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

    When it comes to blenders, opt for lean alternatives like Diet Coke or Seltzer to minimize calories without skimping on alcohol. This can help reduce the caloric impact of each drink on your diet.

    Try some non-alcoholic alternatives.

    Today, more than ever, there are many non-alcoholic options that can offer the same taste and aroma as their alcoholic counterparts without the worry of sleep deprivation and other negative effects of alcohol. (Or the hum, of course.)

    In the beer sector, breweries like Athletic Brewing are delving deeper into the category, offering numerous craft options to keep your evening celebrations well-hydrated without sacrificing your workout.

    You still have to count your calories; Alcohol-free beers are not calorie-free. But if you want a beer with dinner or something to hold at the party but without a hangover, this could be a great option for you. When you go to a bar, keep in mind that non-alcoholic options other than soda and seltzer aren’t always plentiful, but they’re becoming increasingly available.

    Plan your party in advance.

    As already mentioned, alcohol can have a negative impact on your sleep patterns. If you know you’re going out for the evening, try to time your workouts around it and schedule a recovery session that doesn’t tax your body any more than you already did. This can be a great time to give your body back some of its energy – and allow your head to stop spinning.

    While this can be an effective strategy for allowing progress in drinking and training, those recovery days don’t have to be completely stagnant. Going for a walk, preparing meals, or attending a healthy yoga class can be great activities to partake in during those planned hangover days. However, the most important thing is to keep those scheduled appointments to a minimum because if you want to make progress in any fitness discipline, the best solution is to be sharp, energetic and ready for the upcoming workouts.

    Drinking and fitness don’t have to be opposites. Follow the tips above and you can indulge and improve at the same time. Drink responsibly, exercise effectively, and enjoy the life you have ahead of you.

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