Alcohol and fitness have a very complicated relationship. Alcohol is all around us and let’s face it, we all enjoy a drink or two at some point. A great saying is that if you look for an excuse, you will always find one. When it comes to alcohol, this is definitely true.

Excuses such as:

  • Time for celebrations and somebody’s popping bubbly?
  • The football is on and all of your mates are watching the game in the pub and you can’t resist a fresh pint?
  • It is the weekend and you want to destress from a long week by having a glass of wine.


If any of these scenarios seem familiar (or maybe all of them), read on to determine how over-doing the alcohol might be ruining your progress in improving your body composition and performing to the best of your ability in the gym. But also, how you can still enjoy a few drinks without completely going off track for the week.



What happens to alcohol in the body?


The first thing to note is that alcohol is a toxin and toxins are bad for the body. But seeing as this is a toxin that gets consumed, it is good to know the process that occurs in the body. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and the small intestine. Most of this alcohol is then broken down in the liver into Acetyl co-enzyme A, and eventually into ATP (energy).

As a result, less ATP is produced by the primary fuel sources carbohydrates and fats. The liver can only convert Acetyl co-enzyme A to energy at a rate of only 1 unit of alcohol per hour. Drinking more than this leads to a different enzyme dealing with this in the liver making it less toxic to the body.

The more you drink alcohol, the more of this enzyme the body will produce, which is why it may take more drinks to feel the effects of alcohol if you are a frequent drinker!



Alcohol consumptions impact on weight loss, fitness and muscle gain


What you may not be aware of is the calorie content of alcohol – 7kcal/gram. This is just falling short of the 9kcal/gram found in fats, and up on the 4kcal/gram found in carbs and protein.

The main difference though?

Alcohol contains ‘empty’ calories, which cannot be utilised or benefit the body in comparison to the 3 main macronutrients. As well as this, alcohol has been shown to suppress the breakdown of fat, which can increase your likelihood of gaining unwanted body fat.

So if you every thought ‘its only a glass or two of wine’ you may have to think again when you realise its actually 300+ empty calories…

That’s not the only way alcohol is impacting you reaching your body composition goals and hitting PB’s in the gym!

High intakes of alcohol can:

  • Reduce muscle protein synthesis
  • Muscle adaption
  • Limit recovery and adaption to exercises
  • Make you feel less inclined to exercise after a drinking event
  • Stop you from getting stronger and getting those gains!


Limiting your alcohol intake after exercise to 4 units of alcohol or 4 units of beer will make it less likely to impact recovery. The less alcohol you drink, the more inclined you will be to exercise and the less your overall fitness will be impacted. Basically drinking less means you are likely to exercise more!



Short term impacts of drinking alcohol


‘I’m never drinking again’…We’ve all been there! How does it get this bad? Why does the body feel the way it does after drinking?

Initially, the effects of the alcohol being absorbed and utilised will increase your self-confidence. It can also allow you to feel more at ease. The reality though is that alcohol is actually a depressant and not a stimulant.

This means a reduction in:

  • Coordination skills
  • Reaction time
  • Balance
  • Judgement


These together can result in an increased injury risk. It has the potential to be toxic to every cell and organ in your body. If built up to high concentrations can damage the liver, stomach and brain.

As we have all experienced hangovers at one stage or another, we will be aware that they are not a good time. Headache, thirst, nausea, vomiting and heart burn are amongst the symptoms that can be experienced. Part of these symptoms are due to extreme dehydration and a swelling of blood vessels in the head. It is pretty hard to exercise with a hangover and as such, drinking alcohol will also likely impact your short term fitness levels.

Prevention is better than cure however there are some things can do to limit these effects.


How can I limit these effects?


Start by drinking plenty of water!

If you do this both during the time your drinking alcohol, and the following morning when you aren’t feeling the best you will be sure to limit the effects of the drink. A sports drink or a coconut water containing electrolytes may often be useful when the hangover has kicked in to help minimise the effects of dehydration.

Having protein rich meals, the day you know you are going may help to minimise the loss of muscle. As we have learned, having 20-40g of protein at 4-6 intervals throughout the day will keep your body in a positive protein balance, don’t forget about this on the days you are out for the evening when it is most important!

Having some high protein meals at ease for the next day will also help to avoid over eating and help with limiting muscle loss also. Finally, there are a few things you could consider on the night you go out too.

Maybe you could limit yourself and only bring enough money out for 4/5 drinks? Opting for spirits and low-calorie mixers or sparkling water could also be beneficial in reducing calories and helping with the hangover, as they like to say everything is allowed but in moderation!


In Summary


Alcohol, for a lot of people is a part of every day life. It has a wider-ranging impact on the body and little, if any, of those impacts are positive. Does that mean we should not have alcohol at all? Of course not. Moderation and awareness are key when it comes to drinking. There is a lot you can do to limit the impacts of this toxin on your body and results.

If you are looking to maintain your fitness, and continue to consume alcohol it is a good idea to keep your goals front and centre. You will usually make the right choices. Cheers!



Want To Learn More?


Since COVID-19 entered our lives, we have aimed to deliver some great weekly information as to how you can remain healthy, productive and in good spirits. This blog post is the latest addition to a growing library of information. Click to read more on our dedicated COVID support blogs.


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