Is it a bad idea to hit the gym after having a few drinks at happy hour? -- Celeste
We've all been there. A friend wants to grab drinks or go to a boozy brunch, but you promised yourself you wouldn't skip yoga (again). And as much as we'd like to deny it, you aren't doing yourself any favors by pounding the pavement or hitting the mat with a slight buzz. As you probably guessed, even in moderation alcohol is considered an ergolytic substance, meaning it impairs athletic performance (compared to ergogenic substances like caffeine, which can enhance performance). The more alcohol you consume, the more your performance is impaired and the more your risk for injury increases.
A less well-known recommendation is that you might not want to consume alcohol immediately after exercising, either. According to George Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it's best to try and avoid the interaction of alcohol and exercise entirely. "The tendency is, you're thirsty after a run, so you want to drink a beer," Koob says. "Save the beer for later when your body's systems have returned to a more homeostatic level. Exercise is good for you, but it does change a number of factors, and it's probably best to let them settle down before you drink." In particular, exercise increases the body's insulin production, which can put stress on the cardiovascular system. "It's kind of a common-sense issue," Koob says. "If you have a tendency toward hypoglycemia or cardiovascular issues, I think you have to be careful about combining alcohol and exercise."
Even if you are meticulous about refraining from alcohol on days you work out, there's evidence to show that competitive athletes might want to steer clear of the bottle altogether. According to a 2013 study in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism:
A significant difference exists in injury rates between drinkers and non-drinkers in athletic populations. Athletes that consume alcohol at least once a week have almost a two-fold higher risk of injury compared to non-drinkers and this elevated injury rate holds true for the majority of sports examined.
And as David Cox explained in The Guardian earlier this year, alcohol can negatively affect sleep, a key component of exercise recovery.
[Alcohol] alters the sequence of the different phases of your sleep cycle, which reduces your body's ability to store glycogen -- a crucial energy source that you need for endurance -- as well as increasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and that slows down healing. This is still the case even if you stopped drinking six hours before you went to bed.
The takeaway? It's best not to drink alcohol before exercising, and it's a good idea to wait a few hours after a workout to imbibe. And if you want to gain an edge on your completion, consider refraining altogether (or at least seriously cutting back).
Apologies for putting a damper on your summer plans, everyone.
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