If you find yourself dragging on the treadmill or running out of energy halfway through a kickboxing class, it might have something to do with the alcohol you had the night before. While light drinking isn’t guaranteed to cause noticeable side effects come morning, experts say two drinks can have a surprising effect on your workout the next day.
Of course, these effects vary depending on what you imbibed. For reference, twelve ounces of beer is about 5% alcohol, five ounces of wine is 12%, and 1.5 ounces of liquor is about 40% alcohol. “On average, it takes about one hour for your liver to break down the amount of alcohol in a standard drink,” registered dietician Kayla Girgen, RD, LD, tells Bustle. “If you have two standard drinks, you can expect them to be metabolized in about two hours. Side effects, though, can last longer and depend on your tolerance to alcohol.”
According to performance dietician Hillary Ake, MS, RD, LD, other factors that impact how quickly you metabolize alcohol include your body composition, what types of meals you had, how well you slept, and how much water you consumed. If you really want to make it to the gym the day after drinking, Ake recommends drinking twice as much water as alcohol: Think two glasses of a hydrating non-alcoholic beverage for every alcoholic drink. It’ll also help to have a well-balanced meal before you imbibe. Pair that with drinking more water when you wake up, and you should feel ready to hit the gym.
Let’s say you forgot to drink enough water, didn’t have a big dinner, and are now crawling out of bed with a mild hangover. Should you go to the gym? Is it OK to jog down the street? Here, experts explain how two drinks can impact your workout the next day so you can go in with realistic expectations.
How Two Drinks Can Affect Your Workout The Next Day
While drinking two cocktails at night might make it easier to drift off initially, alcohol actually disturbs sleep due to the way it impacts the neurotransmitters and chemicals within your central nervous system, says Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietician and certified nutrition support clinician. In fact, alcohol has been linked to poor overall sleep quality and duration, as well as reduced REM sleep, which is why you hardly ever wake up feeling refreshed after a night of drinking.
“In addition to its role within the central nervous system, alcohol can also negatively impact sleep by causing you to have to get up more frequently throughout the night to urinate due to its diuretic effect,” Gillespie tells Bustle. Add it all up, and it’s not surprising why you might feel sluggish, sleepy, or even uncoordinated during your workout the following day.
The diuretic properties of alcohol also interfere with the water balance and electrolyte concentration in the body, Ake explains, which isn’t great when you’re trying to exercise. Apart from making you feel fatigued, being dehydrated means your body is less able to regulate body temperature. “So you will feel hotter faster and may notice flushed skin,” says Ake. Cut to you stepping off the treadmill way earlier than usual to recover.
Fatigue and dehydration can also reduce your reaction time, which could literally trip you up during agility-based workouts — or, at the very least, make you feel “out of it” enough that you don’t want to do whatever exercise is on deck. Not only that, but dehydration can even impact muscle contraction and nerve impulses, Ake says, meaning those two drinks might just set you up for an after-workout muscle cramp. Oof.
How To Recover Before A Workout
If you’re nodding yes to all the side effects listed above, it might be a better idea to skip your sweat sesh. “You should not ignore [these side effects] and push through your workout,” says Gillespie. Instead, take a break and put off exercising until you’re fully rested and rehydrated. The last thing you want to do is pop into a tough cardio HIIT class where you’ll lose even more fluid by sweating. At that point, you’re just putting yourself at risk for an electrolyte imbalance, and possibly even more severe dehydration.
If you do feel well enough to work out, go for it. Having two drinks certainly doesn’t disqualify you from hitting the gym, especially if you sipped on something mild, like a hard seltzer, the night before. Just make sure you bring a water bottle with you to ensure you’re fully hydrated.
The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before exercising, plus another 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes beforehand. Gillespie suggests upping your intake by a couple of ounces if you had alcoholic beverages the night before, and also replenishing your electrolytes. Follow these rules and you should be able to work out just fine (maybe don’t expect to beat a personal record, though).
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Kayla Girgen, RD, LD, registered dietician
Hillary Ake, MS, RD, LD, performance dietician
Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, LD, registered dietician, certified nutrition support clinician