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In various sports, especially team sports, it is a common practice to drink alcohol after exercise, often in large amounts, whether it’s drinking a few beers in the locker room after a game or going out to a bar to celebrate a victory. In fact, studies suggest that athletes are more likely to consume alcohol excessively than the general population. However, excessive alcohol consumption after exercise hinders recovery and may affect athletic performance in future training and competitions.
Recovery begins immediately after exercise. It is well established that the first hour post- exercise is critical for recovery and for generating long-term adaptations. Drinking alcohol within one hour of exercise is detrimental to recovery and athletic performance in many ways. Here are 4 negative effects of post-workout drinking.
Consuming alcohol post-exercise can reduce protein synthesis and therefore alter tissue repair and muscle mass gain, even if alcoholic beverages are consumed with a high-protein meal or snack. Alcohol also negatively affects the quality of sleep, which decreases the secretion of growth hormones and testosterone, which are important for muscle building and repair. If the muscles have not repaired properly, it increases the risk of injury.
Even though beer contains carbohydrates, these carbohydrates will not be absorbed as efficiently. The body prioritizes breaking down the alcohol, which slows down the digestion of other nutrients such as carbohydrates. Once consumed, alcohol quickly passes through the gastrointestinal mucosa and is broken-down by the liver. It then competes with the production of glycogen, which is the energy reserves in the muscle. In addition, athletes who consume alcohol after training tend not to consume enough post-workout carbohydrates, which also reduces glycogen production.
After physical effort, it is important to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost via perspiration. Proper rehydration helps optimize blood flow, nutrient delivery to the muscles and waste disposal. Even though alcoholic beverages are liquids, they will not help you rehydrate after exercise. On the contrary, alcohol is a diuretic, which is to say it increases the production of urine and causes dehydration. It causes a decrease in the secretion of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) which leads to the body removing more water than it absorbs.
Alcohol is an important source of calories that can contribute to weight gain because it does not need to be digested in order to be absorbed. Each gram of alcohol equals 7 calories, almost double to what carbohydrates or proteins provide (4 calories per gram). Unfortunately, the calories provided by alcohol are not used as fuel. Instead, they can be converted into fatty acids and stored as fat in the body.
In conclusion, it should be noted that in most studies, subjects drank an excessive amount of alcohol post exercise. Excessive alcohol consumption refers to 1g of alcohol per kilogram of body weight. This equates to 4 glasses of wine or 3.5 pints of beer for a person who weighs 80kg (or less for someone lighter). The effects of more moderate alcohol consumption are less well known. In any case, if you have serious performance goals, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol after exercise. If you choose to drink it, do so in moderation and be sure to rehydrate yourself first with a sports drink, as well as to consume a proper recovery snack beforehand. In general, an adequate recovery snack or meal contains about 20g of protein and about 1g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight (i.e. 80g of carbohydrates for an individual who weighs 80 kg).