Updated: Jul 9, 2022
Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN
Alcohol consumption after exercise has been a long-time tradition for many athletes. In fact, many events offer beer tents as a part of the post- race celebration. But, is it ok to drink alcohol after a workout or a race? How much?
The major concerns here would be hydration, muscle recovery, and stress on your body. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes you to urinate more and lose fluids. Being that you have just finished a race or workout and are likely needing additional hydration, thus a diuretic would not be recommended. Research has shown that beverages containing just 4.0% alcohol may delay the recovery from dehydration due to its diuretic nature.
Alcohol also impairs muscle protein synthesis, or muscle repair and growth, resulting in decreased muscle size and increased risk for injury. This works against building strength and stamina, which is usually the exact reason you are working out. Muscle recovery is inhibited more the more you drink. Although, some research shows no inhibitory effect on muscle recovery with moderate alcohol consumption. What is moderate alcohol consumption? That would be one beverage for females and two for males. A beverage is equivalent to 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol), and 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol).
Consuming alcohol decreases the part of the brain activity that is responsible for movement, speech, and decision making, which does not help your body recover at a cellular level post-workout. After a workout your nervous system is using energy to rebalance the stress it just endured from the workout. Drinking post-workout puts additional stress on your body’s cardiovascular and metabolic processes, thereby interfering with recovery.
So, if you are considering a post-workout alcoholic beverage consider these tips to lessen the negative effects that alcohol has on recovery:
HYDRATE: drink at least 16 ounces of water or sports drink for every pound lost during your workout. Also consider hydration before and during your workout. The Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association recommends drinking 16- 20 ounces four hours before a workout and 8 to 12 ounces fifteen minutes before a workout. During a workout you should be drinking 3 to 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
POST-WORKOUT FUEL: Have a post-workout snack consisting of carbohydrate and protein in a 3:1 ratio.
DON’T OVERDO IT ON THE BOOZE: drinking in excess can reduce strength and performance due to its inhibiting effect on recovery. Moderation is key here!