How does alcohol affect your fitness?

19 Jul 2023 07:49AM by Hannah Whiteley - Academy Nutrition Tutor

Nutrition Becky

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle goes beyond exercise alone. It encompasses a holistic approach that includes proper nutrition and responsible choices. Alcohol Awareness Week was earlier this month so we’re shedding some light on the impact of alcohol on our health, fitness goals and overall wellbeing. Here’s Hannah Whiteley to help you with the facts and empower you to make informed decisions when it comes to alcohol. 



Understanding the impact of alcohol

  1. Alcohol and your body

    Alcohol is not just ‘empty calories’ as you may think. It impacts our bodies in various ways. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the blood and metabolised in the liver. Alcohol can lead to dehydration, high blood pressure, reduce your body’s ability to absorb nutrients  and decrease your immune function. It can also interfere with muscle protein synthesis and recovery, making it more challenging to meet fitness goals. 

  2. Alcohol and sleep

    Another aspect of your lifestyle that alcohol can affect is sleep. While it can make you feel droswy and help you to fall asleep faster initially, it disrupts your  natural sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality and you might not feel as rested. A study was carried out and found that ‘high amounts of alcohol decreased sleep quality by 39.2%’. And when we feel more tired, we can put off getting active and reach fatigue a lot quicker in our workouts.  

  3. Alcohol and dietary choices

    Drinking alcohol can significantly influence our dietary choices.. This is due to several factors such as feeling more carefree and impulsive, increased appetite and cravings, change in how things taste and social and environmental factors. If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded ‘hangover’, you’ll know that it can lead you to eat high fat and high sugar foods. This is due to dehydration, disrupted blood sugar regulation, and  emotional eating. What you eat plays a major part in your overall health and fitness. To reach your fitness goals and allow your muscles to repair, you might want to think a bit more about what you eat after you’ve had a drink. 


Top tips for a balanced approach

  1. Awareness and moderation are key

    To manage how much alcohol you drink, you might want to set limits for yourself on how many drinks to consume or when to stop drinking, and be aware of the standard drink sizes, which vary between countries. The NHS guidelines recommend no more than 14 units per week, spread across several days which includes at least 2 alcohol free days. This comes to around 6 medium (175ml) glasses of wine, or 6 pints of 4% beer. It is also important to make sure you are balancing out your drinking by doing regular exercise. This will help your body function and avoid you feeling low after alcohol consumption.

  2. Plan your training and recovery

    If you have specific fitness and health-related goals, it is important to consider how alcohol may influence these. When planning your alcohol intake around training, try to avoid alcohol immediately before or after your training to minimise its negative impact on performance and recovery. Instead, aim for alcohol-free days on training days and schedule your drinks on rest days to avoid its negative influence on muscle protein synthesis, recovery and dehydration. Our PT’s here at Virgin Active can help guide you on your journey. They will help build a nutrition plan for you, including when it’s appropriate to drink alcohol. Everything you need to improve your lifestyle. Find out more here. 

  3. Remember to hydrate

    Alcohol has a diuretic effect, increasing urine production and contributing to dehydration. To counter this effect, remember to hydrate! Drink water before, during and after alcohol consumption to minimise dehydration. Aim to drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic drink.  

  4. Choose lower-energy options

    Light beers, spirits with soda water or diet mixers, and dry wines tend to be lower in energy vs. sugary cocktails or high-alcohol content drinks. For example, A bottle of beer can be as low as 64 calories, or a glass of rose for 75 calories. There is always a drink option that is that little bit better for you. 

By being mindful, practicing moderation, and prioritising your well-being, you can strike a balance between enjoying occasional drinks and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

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