We’ve all been there. Even those pious enough to still be doggedly committing to Dry January have done the mental gymnastics that means an hour in the gym entitles them to drink as much as they like in the pub later on. And who hasn’t allowed themselves an extra drink or two on a Thursday night because they’ve already booked a boxing class in the morning? Because you’re definitely going to go. Definitely.
Unfortunately, while hitting the gym before or after a big night out will mitigate some of the damage, alcohol’s effect on the body lasts far longer than your inevitable hangover. Personal trainer Toby Huntington-Whiteley tells us why, if you’re serious about getting in shape, it might be wise to cut out the booze altogether.
One of the biggest side effects of drinking – dehydration – is due to the fact that alcohol is a diuretic. Although you’re consuming large amounts of liquid, the diuretic nature of alcohol causes you to urinate far more than usual thus leading to dehydration. If you’re hitting the gym with even a mild hangover, the potential of your workout will be diminished as dehydration impacts blood flow which, in turn, reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can feed your muscles. The cumulation of dehydration from alcohol intake combined with the water lost through sweat during your workout will lead to even further dehydration – a state it can take a surprisingly long time to recover from.
The good news is, if this only occurs occasionally, you’re unlikely to see a huge difference in your progress. However, if a few workouts a week are being affected by alcohol intake, this will stop you from being at your full potential and reaching your goals.
Count the calories
If the aim of your trining is to shed a few pounds then the calorie content of alcoholic another big thing to consider. Indeed, compared to other macronutrients it has one of the highest calories per gram:
Fat – 9cal/gram
Alcohol – 7cal/gram
Carbohydrates – 4cal/gram
Protein – 4cal/gram
Alcohol is not only high in calories but also devoid of any nutritional value. Again, this might not impact your day-to-day training but, if you’re aiming towards weight management, it will make things harder as the extra calories will actively stop you reducing body fat. As with all ‘treats’, it’s important to be mindful of how much you’re drinking and acknowledge how far this might lead you to exceed your daily calorie requirements. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop drinking in order to lose weight but does mean that you‘ll have to reduce calories from other sources (i.e. food) which have more nutritional benefits to stay within your daily calorie target. Doing this regularly is clearly not going to result in a healthy diet or improve your fitness.
Don't sacrifice sleep
Finally, it’s also important to consider how sleep and recovery are affected by alcohol consumption. Amount and quality of sleep play a very important role in training as sleep allows your body to fully repair from workouts. During sleep your body will rest and recover while the stress hormone cortisol will also reduce.
Having alcohol in your system will lead to poor quality sleep because it disrupts the sequence of the different sleep phases. More time is spent in deep sleep and not as much in REM (rapid eye movement) than usual. REM is an important phase that allows your brain to exercise neural connection thus leading to better overall well-being. A deficit of REM sleep can leave you feeling tired even if you’ve had a satisfying number of hours of sleep as your mind hasn’t been able to deal with your emotions and memories properly. And, let’s face it, no-one’s going to hit the gym when all they really want is a nap.
Want more fitness advice? Here’s the lowdown on body fat percentage…
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