It’s not uncommon to finish a race or group run with the option to grab a cold beer or other alcoholic drink. To many, a post-run beer or drink sounds refreshing, especially on those hot or humid days. But how does alcohol potentially impact performance and recovery? Here we’ll break down the science to help you to decide what is the right choice for you and your goals.
How Alcohol Impacts The Body’s System
Before diving into the effects of alcohol on post-workout recovery, it is important to discuss how alcohol impacts the body and overall health
- Muscle: while the mechanisms are not yet fully understood, muscle cramps, pain, and loss of proprioception are all common symptoms of alcohol misuse. 
- Hydration and temperature regulation: alcohol will reduce the production of antidiuretic hormone. This causes increased dehydration due to the larger volume of urine . It also interferes with the body’s thermoregulatory mechanisms– or the regulation of internal body temperature–causing core body temperature to drop. 
- Metabolism: consumption of alcohol has been shown to impact the availability of glucose, which is critical for endurance performance. This is done by a number of mechanisms including the reduction of muscle glycogen uptake and storage. 
- Neurological function: due to how alcohol affects the central nervous system (CNS) it can impair balance, memory, reaction time, and motor skills. How drastically the impact on the CNS has been found to be dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Immune system: one night of heavy drinking can suppress immune system function, making you more susceptible to illness. 
Alcohol And Post-Workout Recovery
One study which looked at alcohol consumption following resistance exercise found that levels of cortisol– commonly known as the stress hormone– were increased, and levels of testosterone were decreased.  Both of these hormones play an important role in performance and recovery.
Chronically elevated levels of cortisol leads to muscle breakdown, lower immune system function, increased fat storage, and sleep disturbances. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone that is important for both males and females. When it comes to performance, testosterone plays a role in the development of muscle mass and strength. It also contributes to the body’s ability to maintain energy levels.
This study also found that rates of muscle protein synthesis were decreased. These results show the potential that muscular adaptations could be impaired if alcohol consumption during post-workout recovery is in your regular routine.
When it comes to alcohol’s effect on glycogen storage, a study of 6 well-trained cyclists found that consuming alcohol after a workout moderately impaired glycogen resynthesis. This was believed to be in part due to the consumption of alcohol in place of a carbohydrate rich meal or snack post-workout.
While the current research gives some insights on the potential outcomes of alcohol consumption and post-workout recovery, it remains limited. Further research in this area is needed.
- There is limited research on the impact of alcohol on post-workout recovery.
- Some evidence exists that it can impair post-workout glycogen resynthesis. This is the restoring of carbohydrates in the muscles and liver and is critical for endurance athletes!
- Post-workout alcohol consumption may also disrupt cortisol, testosterone, and muscle protein synthesis. These are all critical for muscle repair and health.
- The effects of alcohol on overall health and the body’s systems are well-researched.
- Drawing from the impacts on metabolism, muscle health, hydration/thermoregulation, immune system health, and neurological function, each individual athlete can make an educated decision on their choices around alcohol consumption.
Stevie Smith is a Registered Dietitian, board certified in sports nutrition, who is here to help you fuel your busy lifestyle. As a life-long athlete, she is passionate about helping active individuals to improve performance without sacrificing their health and happiness.