At this point you're probably no stranger to the occasional Zoom happy hour. Though getting drinks isn't what it used to be, it can still be fun to knock back a beer in the virtual company of friends. But even that single beer (or whatever your drink of choice is) can impact your body well after happy hour ends — here's how one drink affects your workout the next day.
If you've ever dealt with a hangover before, you know that drinking comes with a host of side effects. (And, BTW, if online cocktail parties have become a pandemic routine, you're in good company: Alcohol sales grew by more than 50% as the first stay-at-home orders rolled in during March 2020, according to data from Nielson.) Alcohol can dehydrate you, impair your reaction time, and interfere with good sleep, according to physician Dr. Gretchen San Miguel, M.D. All of that can mess with your sweat sesh the next day.
"[Drinking alcohol the night before a workout] will affect your motor skills, hydration, aerobic capacity, and muscle growth and recovery," she tells Bustle. "Though these effects vary widely from person to person based on how quickly you metabolize alcohol, what your nutritional status is, and more."
These side effects still apply even if you only had one drink. From hydration levels to coordination, here's the low-down on how that bit of booze can impact your ability to perform during your workout, plus tips for what you can do to overcome it.
1. It Dehydrates You
Alcohol is a diuretic that makes you pee more and absorb less water into your body, which is a recipe for dehydration, says certified health coach Debra Swan. Dehydration can cause shakiness, dizziness, muscle cramps, and mental confusion, all of which can interfere with your ability to go about your day, let alone tackle a killer workout, she explains. Add to that the sweat you lose during exercise, and you can really start to feel the effects of that evening glass of wine. Cue the hangover headache.
Dehydration can also make it harder to regulate your body temperature, says San Miguel. This can cause you to overheat when exercising, which puts stress on your heart that can make it difficult to push through aerobic activity.
2. It Lowers Strength & Boosts Fatigue
When you're dehydrated, your performance is also going to suffer due to decreased blood flow to your muscles, according to San Miguel. Reduced blood circulation means less strength and more exhaustion since your muscles aren't getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to power you through your workout, she says, and without those nutrients, your muscles release lactic acid to help them soldier on. But since you may not have the extra fluids to flush it out (due to dehydration), lactic acid can linger in your muscles longer and cause fatigue and cramping.
Alcohol can also deplete your muscles of the fuel they need to slay a workout, says San Miguel. When you drink, your liver goes into overdrive to metabolize alcohol. "The body gives muscles the sugar they need to work out by taking stored sugars from your liver and converting it to glucose," she tells Bustle. "But your liver can't do any of that when it's processing alcohol." Without that sustenance, your muscles are running on empty, which can lead to (you guessed it) more fatigue, cramping, and longer recovery time.
Besides that, pushing your body when it doesn't have enough fuel can compromise your form, which can lead to a domino effect of muscle strain, overuse, or injury. So if your muscles are telling you to stop, it might be wise to listen.
3. It Decreases Coordination
Ever gotten a case of the stumbles when you're tipsy? That's because alcohol can dampen your nervous system's ability to communicate with your brain, says San Miguel, which can lead to trouble with coordination, balance, and reaction (which isn't news if you're trying to do power yoga).
That dip in coordination can persist until you exercise the next day, according to San Miguel. "Those effects will linger until you completely process that drink, which can take up to 24 hours," she tells Bustle. And when your nervous system isn't in top form, your motor skills take the hit. You might notice decreased reaction time, speed, dexterity, and concentration during your workout, she says.
4. It Messes With Your Sleep
Though wine may put you right to sleep, it doesn't help you sleep well since your body is busy processing the alcohol, says registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN. "Drinking even a little before bed can disrupt the quality of sleep by interfering with the REM cycle, which is required for adequate rest." You might wake up throughout the night or spend less time in deep sleep — either way, don't count on quality ZZZs after just one drink close to bedtime.
Waking up in the morning after a night of poor sleep doesn't exactly put you in the mood for a workout, adds Swan. After all, when's the last time you wanted to hit the gym while nursing a hangover?
5. It Impacts Your Recovery
Aside from making you feel exhausted, poor sleep can also mess with your muscles' ability to bounce back from activity, says San Miguel. When you sleep, your body releases a growth hormone that helps heal sore muscles. But tossing and turning all night while your body processes alcohol decreases that hormone level, says San Miguel. "That diminishes your ability to repair muscle during your workout the next day, and repair and grow muscle that's tired from previous workouts." In other words: Your body won't be so well-prepped to perform in your sweat sesh.
How To Deal
The most important thing to do to combat a slight hangover? Drink water, and lots of it, says San Miguel, who recommends doubling whatever you drank in alcohol. And, as it turns out, carb-loading is as effective for combatting alcohol side effects as it is for fueling up before a big race. Eating carbs with your drink the night before can provide an alternative energy source for your muscles while your liver is busy processing alcohol during your workout, she says.
If you'd rather sip a cocktail with friends at the expense of your workout, no shade. It's as important to take care of your social and emotional needs as it is to move your body. "It's certainly OK to have a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer or two with friends," says Moskovitz. So whatever you wish with this intel — just don't expect to beat a personal record in your workout if you're drinking the night before.
Dr. Gretchen San Miguel, MD, primary care physician and chief medical officer for Medi-Weightloss in Tampa
Debra Swan, a certified health coach based in Chicago
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