Ep. 72: Alcohol and Working Out

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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    On today’s show, we’re talking about Alcohol and working out: how last night’s cocktail can affect today’s workout, how a post-workout drink can impact how you benefit from your gym efforts, drinks that are easier on the body, and best practices if you ARE going to balance alcohol consumption with your fitness plan.


    We're back with our 72nd episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

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    Episode 72 Transcription

    On today’s show, we’re talking about alcohol and working out. How last night’s cocktail can affect today’s workout; how a post workout drink can have an impact on how you may benefit or not benefit from your gym efforts; drinks that are a little bit easier on the body, and best practices if you are going to balance alcohol consumption with your fitness plan.

    Cassy Joy: Welcome back to the Fed and Fit podcast! I’m excited about today’s episode. This is an episode topic I’ve actually had jotted down in my scrolling iPhone notepad for months and months now, and I’m glad we’re getting to it. We’re going to talk today about alcohol and working out. Really, how does alcohol affect the body; how does last night’s drink have an effect on today’s workout, and then if you are going to, if you do choose to have some adult beverages in and around your workout, what are maybe some best practices that maybe will keep your cocktails from sabotaging some of your efforts in the gym.

    So I’m excited about today’s episode; I hope you find it interesting. When I asked you guys; I asked on Snapchat, I think I had four podcast topics in my queue that I was getting ready to research, and this was an overwhelming number of you voted for this episode. So I’m excited about it, and I hope you really enjoy today’s show.

    I’m going to try and keep it pretty short and sweet, and I’m going to try not to get too sciencey, because I don’t want to lose anybody. We’re just going to talk about really general, I’ve done a bunch of research and I’ve tried to pull out, skim off, you know, the cream off the top and really give you some best practices and some very basic science. So, let’s jump into it!

    First, let’s talk about alcohol. If you just topped off of a, I don’t know, maybe you’re a caveman. What movie was that? I wish there was someone here that I could ask, where the guy was buried in the ice. The caveman; I used to love that movie! {Encino Man} And he came into the modern world, and all of it was new. So let’s say if you’re that guy; what the heck is alcohol? Alcohol, or ETOH is a substance usually found in various volumes in adult beverages. So when you look on a bottle of wine or on a bottle of beer, it will say alcohol by volume. So that’s what we’re talking about.

    Most of it, when consumed, is absorbed by the stomach and the rest is absorbed through the small intestine. And then it makes its way around the body, causing all of those funny, loose feelings, while the liver works furiously to metabolize, or deconstruct the alcohol brought to it by the blood stream. Ok, so that’s kind of the basic overview of how alcohol works in the body.

    If you want more information on alcohol, and you know, how it’s made; we get into a little bit more of the science weeds, you should definitely look up alcohol 101 episode, on this podcast, it was episode number 21 if you want to scroll back through the archives.

    Ok, let’s start with the first, most pertinent question that we’re all wondering. How does last night’s drink affect today’s workout? So this is a great question, and in all of this I want you guys to understand that I’m not trying to be preachy, by any means. I definitely enjoy a couple of cocktails a week, so you choose what’s best for you. I’m just going to kind of try to give you a broad overview. And sometimes I abide by these things and sometimes I don’t, so you do you. But I think knowledge is power, and it’s best that we can make the best decisions for ourselves when we’re armed with the most information.

    Ok, so how does last night’s drink affect today’s workout? Well number one, and this is kind of going to be a no-brainer, duh moment for everybody, almost everybody listening is my guess, is that it can cause us to be more dehydrated. Now here’s why; we tend to become more dehydrated as our body’s send extra fluid to our organs, like the liver, to help process this toxin that is alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin to our bodies. As we try to process it out. We could possibly compensate this by drinking more water, but the imbalance is pretty difficult to overcome if you’re just out on a boozing night.

    And a healthy state of hydration, and a normal state of hydration means that our muscle and our brains and our organs are consistently supplied with nourishing nutrients. Those vitamins and those minerals, building amino acids and so forth. And then when alcohol is in the body, it necessitates almost this all hands on deck kind of response from the body to kind of throw everything the body’s got at processing this toxin out of our system as fast as possible.

    So we’ll throw whatever we can to get the poison out; this means we’re throwing vitamins and minerals, water, and other life giving nutrients to help minimize the alcohol’s effect on the body as we try to get it expelled. It’s really cool that the body does that. How awesome is the body that it protects ourselves? So while we may enjoy the benefits of alcohol, some of the pleasures and the loose mind and all that stuff and the giggles for a couple of hours, our body is essentially thinking; oh my gosh, we’re being poisoned! Let’s fix it!

    So while our body is throwing all its nutrients and capabilities at trying to process this thing out, it’s using a lot of water to get that done. So that’s why if you do go out drinking, you might notice you have to go to the bathroom more often, and that’s exactly why. It’s because your body is pulling from water stores to process the toxins out of the body. So that’s why; we’re trying to flush it out.

    So, because; let’s say if you had three or four drinks the night before and you’re trying to figure out what kind of an impact that might have on tomorrow’s workout, is that you’re very likely going to be dehydrated if you didn’t compensate by drinking even more water. And we’ll talk about things you can do to prepare your body if you are going to have a cocktail; things you can do to prepare your body best for tomorrow’s workout.

    But, dehydration is a serious thing. It’s not that you’re not drinking water because you’re drinking a glass of wine; it’s that the glass of wine pulls more hydration, water reserves, out of your body than few other beverages.

    Ok, next; how else does last night’s drink affect today’s workout? So dehydration aside, let’s look just at decreased energy. It’s going to cause you to feel a little bit more lethargic, and that’s because alcohol consumption can actually slow the update of glycogen for the muscles and the brain. Meaning it can make you feel a little bit more sluggish mentally and physically. So think about a morning you wake up after you’ve had a few glasses of wine; maybe you feel like you’re like; oh gosh, one and a half glasses of wine. I’m speaking for myself now! I know that I can do one and a half to two glasses of wine if I have food and I can feel fine the next day, relatively fine. I’m not going to feel like a million bucks. But if I have two and a half; maybe that extra half a glass of wine, I know I’m going to wake up the next morning feeling sluggish. That’s my tipping point.

    So that sluggish feeling could be because alcohol has slowed my brain. Mentally I’m kind of slow, my muscles feel a little bit weaker. The alcohol likely has slowed the body from absorbing glycogen, which is essentially the energy nutrient that the body can use for active energy. Making me feel a little slow.

    Ok, next; how does last night’s drink affect today’s workout? This is the last one I’m going to talk about. It is very, very likely; many studies have very firm stances that it decreased protein synthesis. So, essentially what this means is, and this really speaks to how, let’s say if you work out this morning and you’re going to have a drink tonight. So let’s think in reverse order; not necessarily how last night’s drink affects today’s workout. I hope you guys are staying with me through this. But how does tonight’s drink affect this morning’s workout?

    I just want to make that distinction because I think it’s important that you could possibly be sabotaging efforts in the gym if you’re overindulging in alcoholic beverages after a workout because of this decrease in protein synthesis. So what it is does is it essentially keeps your body from tissue repair or building. And this could cause soreness to last longer; it could also cause progress to be stalled. It has a big impact on decreasing stamina.

    So don’t just think about; protein synthesis in layman terms means the building of protein, right? The making of new muscle fibers. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean; don’t just think body-builders. Don’t just think I’m trying to make bigger muscles. Protein synthesis happens if you’re trying to get a faster mile; let’s say you’re just a marathoner. Every time you finish a run, your body goes through protein synthesis to try and build and repair muscle to help your fast twitch and your slow twitch muscle fibers be more finely tuned so that your workouts become easier and easier.

    So, if you’re overindulging in alcohol after a workout, what you could possibly be doing is stalling that repair of those muscles. So almost preventing the progress; you really slaved in the gym, and by overindulging in alcohol, you could essentially be taking away the progress that you could get from that workout. Not entirely; it’s a little dramatic, but for the most part it’s true. And there’s kind of a tipping point in the number of cocktails where that really becomes an issue and we’ll talk about that in a second.

    But those are the three big ones; it could cause dehydration in your workouts, decreased energy, it could also prevent or decrease, excuse me, protein synthesis. It’s not going to prevent it altogether, but it could definitely decrease it by a pretty substantial percentage.

    Ok, today’s workout aside, what are some of the other, more long-term ways alcohol could have an effect on your workout? So let’s talk about the first one. Consuming alcohol chronically, by that I mean maybe you’re consuming an excessive amount every single day, or just an excessive amount in one day. So let’s say you have 6 drinks; I don’t know. {laughs} Whatever an excessive amount is in your mind in a single day. You could really do damage to the gut, right? And when we do damage to the gut, and we’re talking really the whole digestive system. And if you want to learn more about that, I have a mini-series on gut health 101. I also have a lot of information about gut health in my Fed and Fit book.

    But, essentially what we do is the gut is that awesome opportunity where our body is able to absorb, assimilate certain vitamins and minerals and proteins and fats and carbohydrates and all these wonderful building blocks of life, and when we have damaged the gut we could possibly damage our ability to absorb some of those vital life giving nutrients. And those nutrients help us recover from workouts; they also help us progress in our fitness goals. So that’s something that could happen more long-term.

    Secondarily, this is a shout out to everybody who may be looking to lose body fat. Is that it’s highly suspected that alcohol consumption, especially daily, can cause a person to have a lower basal metabolic rate. So what we’re talking about here is chronic alcohol consumption could actually cause you to burn fewer calories. Meaning; so this means that a person will, if you have a lower basal metabolic rate, it means that at a sedentary rate your body is going to be burning fewer calories. So it’s pretty interesting stuff; you can definitely dig into some literature if you do some research. Like I said, I’m going to try to keep this very high level, but that’s a really big hitting thing, I think, for a lot of folks.

    Ok; now contrarily, you’ve probably heard, if you have Googled; are there any performance benefits to consuming alcohol? And if you Google that, and you will definitely find everything. If you Google anything an answer you’re searching for, I guarantee you’re going to find it somewhere on the internet. So there’s a lot of stuff out there; some of it’s real science, some of it is not real science. Generally what you’re going to find is that reports say that red wine or other types of alcohol can actually; one glass a day, for example, can help you with antioxidant consumption, which can promote a healthy heart and help you destress.

    While some of those things may be minorly true, you really have to decide if the hindrance that wine, or that alcohol can have on your benefit from a workout is worth it. So that’s up to you, but I want you to know that that’s going to be out there if you Google it; so I say it’s minimal and negligible.

    Ok, another question; how many days should we go without drinking alcohol before an event? So if you really want to show up and do your best. Let’s say you’ve got a half marathon that you're running, or you’re competing in a Crossfit competition for the first time ever, and you want. You know those days when you show up to the gym and you just feel like you’re walking on water? {laughs} You know? So you want on big event days you want to show up and you want to have one of those feelings. So if you’re trying to set yourself up for that kind of performance, then I recommend avoiding alcohol at least 2 days in advance, if not a full week. Just to give your body time to really focus on healing itself and preparing itself; building up the most amount of water stores, hydration, most amount of vitamins, minerals, really healthy blood sugars. Sugars are getting into the muscles the way they should be, your mind is clear, you’re very motivated, you're very sharp. So I recommend minimum of 2 days, if not 7. Or go longer! Go longer, if you’re on that train, you go for it.

    Ok, which kinds of drinks are easier on the body? If you are going to consume and partake in some adult beverages, which kinds are typically easier on the body to handle? And I talk about a lot of this in that alcohol 101 episode, episode number 21. But I’ll briefly go through the list again; clear liquors are definitely a little bit easier on the body, wine whether it be red, white, or sparkling; gluten free beer. There are some good gluten free beer options out there, I really like O’Mission is one that I’ve really enjoyed. It does not taste like gluten free beer; cider, alternatively is another option for those who like maybe a sweeter beverage that’s carbonated. It’s not my jam, but I know a lot of people like it. Mead is an alcohol that’s fermented with honey; it’s really interesting, it’s really delicious, you can find some good ones.

    I really just recommend avoiding anything that has gluten, of course that’s made with wheat, barley, or rye; and then if you’re going to have a liquor, a clear liquor like tequila, or vodka, or gin, and you’re going to mix it with something, then I recommend avoiding any non-single ingredient mixers. So what I’m talking about here; single ingredient mixers for example are lime juice, olive juice. Olive juice maybe not have a single ingredient, but it’s very basic. Lemon juice; cranberry juice. You know, very basic things. Sparkling water is usually single ingredient. So go for single ingredient mixers; avoid anything that’s got a laundry list of mystery things that’s going to be in there. I’m thinking about those lime flavored mixers; those are awful, so try to avoid those.

    And, I’m going to reiterate this a few times more in a little bit, but I highly recommend if you are going to partake and you’re looking to see progress in the gym, or progress in losing body fat, then I highly recommend you drink a full glass of water between each cocktail. Ok, that’s again to help rebalance hydration and give your body the best fighting chance to not only recover from the alcohol but also recover from your workout.

    Ok, so let’s say if we are going to have a drink, are there things we can do to ensure faster recovery, on that note? Yes there are, I’m glad you asked! So, number one: eat protein first. That’s very important. There are some really cool studies out there, start Googling this stuff. There are some cool studies out there that say that although it will not prevent the slow in protein synthesis altogether, if you have protein before a cocktail after a workout, then the percentage, I think it went from 36% protein synthesis was reduced to 20% reduced. So that’s a pretty substantial jump.

    So if you are going to have; let’s say you’re at a Crossfit competition and you’re going to go and hang out with your friends afterwards. You’re going to have some gluten free beers or maybe some; oh gosh, I don’t know. {laughs} Whatever people drink! Wine, whatever you’re going to indulge in with your friends and fellow competitors, have a can of tuna right afterwards or a protein shake, whatever floats your boat, but try to have protein in your body first before you have the alcohol, it could really help.

    Drink a full 8-12 ounces of water between each cocktail. Try to stop after two cocktails; so three and more, it’s been shown also some of those fun studies talking about protein synthesis that three or more cocktails; now this of course is going to differ based on your body weight, body fat percentage, all that good stuff, male or female. This is all very general average information, and you know your body best. But on average, three or more cocktails is really where a decrease in protein synthesis starts to become a problem. So remember; what we’re talking about there is how you’re able to recover from a workout and benefit from that workout; three or more cocktails is really going to prevent you from getting the full benefit of that workout. So, if you’re going to indulge, just try to tell yourself; ok, I’m going to have one, maybe two cocktails, and then that’s it.

    Now, the last piece of little tidbit here is interesting. Some believe that cocktails consumed within the first few hours after an exercise event are actually less damaging than those consumed 24 hours or longer afterwards, due to the cycle of muscle recovery. Now, in all honesty I really had a hard time finding more studies to substantiate this claim, which I like to find before I tell you guys anything, but I thought it was interesting enough to bring it up altogether. So take it with a grain of salt. But I thought that was pretty interesting. So essentially in layman’s terms, it’s saying that if you drink alcohol within a couple of hours after an event; so after a marathon, half marathon, 5K or Crossfit competition or whatever floats your boat, if you have a cocktail right after it’s less likely to have long-term detrimental impact or prevent you from getting the most out of the workout than if you consume that alcohol let’s say a day after. So when you’re really sore after a really strenuous activity; what this is trying to say is try not to consume alcohol at that point because that’s when your body is really trying to do it’s best to recover the most and you could prevent it at that point in time.

    Ok; so, pretty short and sweet, but let’s go ahead and review some takeaways. Number one; daily alcohol consumption can sabotage your efforts in the gym, keeping you from having the energy to actually perform the workouts by supply a toxin the body then has to process instead of heal you from the workout and help you build and grow and get better in the gym. So just keep that in mind. Remember that alcohol is just essentially a big glass of sugar, and if you’re trying to lose body fat, then this is not your friend. If you’re trying to lose body fat, then I highly recommend you think critically about how many cocktails you enjoy. Remember that one to two drinks could likely not have an enormous detriment on your workout recovery or tomorrow’s workout; but again, you know your body best, so listen to your body and pay attention. If you have a glass of wine and you feel great in tomorrow’s workout, then that may be fine for you. But if you have 2.5 glasses of wine and you feel really sluggish, then mark that down. Take a note, and note that that could be one of your really fun introspective lesson learned, which we talk about a lot in the Fed and Fit Project.

    I recommend trying to keep alcohol consumption to one to two times a week, just if you’re really looking for overall balanced health and you want to feel great most of the time. Consuming protein post workout before the cocktail I highly recommend if you really want to help minimize the detrimental impact of alcohol. And then lastly, we started with hydration and we’re going to end with hydration. Drink more water. So if you are going to partake in some adult beverages, try to go cup for cup. If you’re drinking wine, I have a girlfriend, Amber who does; I love that she does this. If we’re having wine together, she will take her glass of wine, and if she finishes it, then she walks over to the refrigerator and she fills up her wine glass with water and she drinks that, and after that, she pours in another glass of wine. Or however she wants to go, so I think that’s really cool. So try to go glass for glass if you really want to give your body the best fighting chance; not only to process that alcohol out of your system, but to also help you keep growing and gaining and getting the most out of all of your awesome effort in the gym.

    So I hope you guys enjoyed today’s episode; I really enjoyed researching it, and we will be back again. These next couple of weeks I’ve got some interviews planned and some other fun topics. Remember you can always find me on social media, Instagram, and Snapchat particularly, along with bringing you brand new recipes every week to the blog and some Facebook live videos. I’m constantly trying to bring you guys new content. And if you’re not already signed up for it, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. You can find that; it’s a little red box on my home page https://FedandFit.com. Sign up for that newsletter if you want to stay up to date on all the places where I’m publishing content for you guys.

    I hope you have a great week; we’ll be back again next Monday.


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