How Alcohol Affects Your Health, Performance and Fitness Goals

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Will drinking derail your fitness goals, or is it OK to imbibe once in a while?

Shakespeare himself said this about drinking:

It Provokes the Desire, but takes away the performance.Shakespeare

Admittedly, he probably wasn’t talking about your bench press numbers, or your quarter mile sprint time, but it begs the question.

Can drinking affect physical performance and harm your fitness goals? What are the effects of alcohol on fitness?

The devil, it seems, lies in the details.

I will take a quick look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of adult beverages and the effects of alcohol on health and fitness.

And because I like you, I will even include a chart of drink data, outlining the least bad to worst drinks for your health.

I will polish off the article with a list of tips to “Drink to your health” if you chose to partake.

night club

Your Body on Alcohol: How Alcohol Operates

Without going all out science speak on you, let me share a few relevant details about how can alcohol affect your health and fitness.

Alcohol messes with your sleep

I think we can all agree that sleep is an important part of health and fitness.

Sleep is when your body gets to work repairing itself, detoxing, rebuilding muscle, etc.

Alcohol disrupts your sleep.

It’s true that alcohol will make you fall asleep faster.

It is also true that consuming alcohol increases deep sleep during the first half of the night.

It is the second half of the night that the problems begin.

Drinking causes restless sleep during the second half of night.

Drinking reduces the total amount of REM sleep you get.

REM sleep is when your brain is “defragmenting the Drive” so to speak. Less REM sleep means poorer memory, concentration and motor function.

Excessive alcohol consumption can affect your hormones

There are many studies done showing drinking can change hormone levels in men and women.

Many say that drinking causes testosterone to drop in males. Testosterone levels influence energy, fat burning, sex drive and muscle building.

It is easy to see why decreasing testosterone is undesirable for guys.

But…

In general, the phenomenon of decreasing testosterone occurs with heavy or chronic drinking.

Modest to moderate occasional drinking is not shown to have a strong effect on testosterone.

Alcohol can make you hungry

This one kills me.

It is bad enough that the alcohol itself adds calories, but it also makes me want to eat more?

Not fair!!

Deep down, you know this is true.

If you have ever found yourself in a Taco Bell drive thru after a night of clubbing, or suddenly decide ordering a pizza or Chinese takeout is the best idea ever as you and your buds Netflix and chill with a 12 pack, you know that alcohol increases your appetite.

man holding two hamburgers

Still, want to see the science?
It’s Complicated. But here goes:

Neurons that are normally set off due to starvation are also activated by alcohol. The activation of this brain circuitry tells your body you are hungry. STARVING, actually.

Crap. That’s a bummer.

Alcohol = Liquid Calories

If you are familiar with Garage GymPower’s Fitness Upgrade Program you know that the first upgrade is to replace calorie laden drinks with low calorie drinks.

If you have not seen the program, be sure to check it out!

You may hear people say alcohol contains “Empty Calories”, but I am not sure I buy that.

What I am sure of is that alcohol does contain plain old calories, just like any other food.

Since alcohol contains calories, those calories must be taken into consideration.

It is not far fetched to think that one could drink 3 to 6 drinks a night, which could mean an extra 400 to 1200 calories in one go.

Combine those extra calories with an alcohol induced food binge and you can do some real damage.

Rinse and repeat every weekend and your weight loss could stall, or begin increasing!

Why Alcohol May Not Actually Be Such a Big Deal

glass of beer

Moderate alcohol use increases Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin signals your body to store fat.

Insulin is also a necessary peptide hormone because it clears your blood of damaging blood sugar.

Surprisingly…

Science has shown that moderate drinking, defined as less than 40 grams of alcohol per day, may increase your sensitivity to insulin, prevent diabetes and decrease risk of coronary heart disease.

Enjoyment & Living are important – Restriction is a Recipe for Failure

If you really enjoy drinking, and having a few beers on the weekend is an important part of your life, denying yourself may result in a failure to achieve your goals.

The route we take to meet our goals must be sustainable and ideally, enjoyable.

After all…

If you are like most folks, you want to be fit and in shape so you can enjoy your life more.

If you deprive yourself in one area of your life to gain in another, you may find yourself at a net 0.

What are Your Fitness Goals, and How to Mesh Your Goals with Drinking

What are your fitness goals?

Are you getting ready for a wedding, vacation, school reunion or important event coming up soon, where you want to look your best?

Are You Training to be an elite athlete, or have a goal of less than 10% body fat?

Do you want to improve your fitness, looks and feel good?

Each goal has its own protocol.

If you have a wedding coming up, you might consider abstaining until the big day.

If your success means getting below 10% body fat, you may choose to quit drinking altogether.

If you want to improve your health and feel better, while still enjoying a drink here and there, you may decide to simply cut back a little, instead of completely eliminating drinking.

Use your common sense, seek to understand the effects of alcohol on fitness and you will get there.

What Alcohol Drinks are the Worst and Which are Fine to Drink?

bar full with drinks

Not all adult beverages are created equal.

A shot of Rum, Whiskey or Vodka with a no calorie, no carb mixer like Seltzer water or diet soda have a third the calories and no carbs, compared to a traditionally prepared Long Island Ice tea with nearly 300 calories and 32 grams of carbs.

What I Drink-True Story

In my pre-fitness days I drank a lot of beer. I am from the Pacific NW, and craft beer is kind of a “thing” in the Northwest.

I still love beer. I will always have a place in my heart for a fine craft brew.

However

Once I started taking my fitness more seriously, I realized that even 3 or 4 beers every weekend would hinder my success.

I made two changes.

First, I stopped drinking every weekend. Now it’s more like once, maybe twice a month. On my “dry” weekend, I just tell myself I can drink next weekend, and I am pretty happy with that.

Second, I switched from beer to a high quality Whisky with tonic water. My go to drink these days is a shot of Johnny Walker on ice with a splash of Canada Dry. Good Stuff. I still drink 3 or 4 at a time, just not every weekend.

I am not saying this is what you should do.

The solution you find should be your own, in terms of what, when and how often you drink.

Find what works for you. Experiment. Take notes. Be mindful of how drinking affects you without judging yourself or feeling guilty.

Ain’t no one got time for guilt, OK?

Just try different things.

Listed below is a chart with drinks that contain the least calories and carbs, to those that have the most.

May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go outJ.R.R. Tolkien

Drink

% Alcohol

Carbs

Calories

Whiskey and Club Soda40%0g100
Vodka and Soda water40%0g97
Martini, with 2.2 oz Gin40%.3g135
Rum and Diet Coke40 %0g96
Michelob Ultra4.2 %2.6g95
Red Wine10%4g126
Bud light4.2%6.6 g110
Sapporo Premium Beer4.9%10.3 g140
Vodka and 100 ml Red bull40%11 g142
Heineken Beer5%11.3 g148
Fat Tire Amber Ale5.2%14155
Screwdriver (Vodka and OJ)40%20180
Rum and 8 oz Coke40%27175
Mike’s Hard Lemonade5%30220
Smirnoff Ice5.6%32228
Margarita (restaurant style)40%22250
Long Island Ice Tea40%32276

“Healthy” Drinking Tips – How to Partake Without Sabotaging Your Goals

cheers - two beers and sunset

Plan your drinking

Plan for when and how much you are going to drink.

E.g., For Suzie’s Birthday this Friday, I will enjoy 4 light beers.

This means you plan when you won’t be drinking also.

E.g. I won’t drink for 5 days before Suzie’s party, so I can enjoy my drinks without feeling bad or sabotaging my goals.

Alternatively…

Another way to plan drinking is to simply set a weekly drink allowance, say, no more than 5 drinks per week, consumed whichever day or days the mood hits.

Get a rotation going

For every drink you have, order a calorie free drink, like water, diet soda or ice tea.

This will keep you hydrated and slow down your drinking so it is harder to over do it.

Use calorie and carb free mixers

Seems so obvious, but for many, it is an easy way to cut calories from drinking.

Nix juice, sugared beverages and high calorie beers in favor of zero calorie and zero carb mixers with hard liquor.

Hopefully, you have found a way to balance drinking with a healthy and fit lifestyle and understand the effects of alcohol on fitness better.

You can enjoy drinking and still find success, as long as you make some adjustments and are smart about it.

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Let me know in the comments below how you maintain balance in your life. What is your go-to drink? Are you able to stay fit and include a drink or two?

I would love to hear from you!