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The New Rules of Alcohol And Exercise

Rules of Alcohol and Exercise

Given the fact that alcohol is a prominent beverage of choice at so many gatherings and events, it's difficult to expect that someone would be able to completely cut the booze. Thus, as with many things in life, the goal isn't complete eradication, but learning how to work around it. So how do you make sure alcohol isn't destroying your health and fitness progress?

It's important to learn how to deal with still having a few drinks, while also working on improving your fitness levels. Completely switching to a no-drinking policy will work wonders for your body... but how likely is it? A day at the ballgame, on the golf course, weddings, events -- only the most committed individual (who does drink) would be able to abstain SIMPLY for fitness reasons. These new rules are going to be your best bet, as they operate under the assumption that, yes, you will be drinking from time to time.

Of course, before we get started, I feel it's my duty as a fitness adviser to let you know that alcohol is one of the most nutrient-deficient caloric sources out there. You'll search far and wide for articles such as 'The 5 Best Beers to Help Build Muscle!' It simply doesn't work that way. Drinking is very akin to eating bad food; know what you're getting into before you consume. Additionally, I should point out that alcohol consumption in massive quantities can lead to a slew of health-related problems, diseases, and possible addiction. Always drink smart, and be safe. Which takes us right into the first rule...

If You Do Drink After Exercise, Have A Three Drink Maximum

In terms of muscle building workouts, alcohol doesn't really help at all -- but anywhere up to three drinks consumed seems to be the sweet spot for not RUINING your workout. This is because numerous studies (involving lots of science) have found that many drinks after a workout (between 4 and 6) will completely obliterate any muscle you may have been hoping to build.

Think about it: one gram of alcohol has a total of seven calories -- unlike the metabolically superior protein (4 cals/gram) and carbohydrates (also 4 cals/gram). The alcohol that you put into your system will, in a sense, bud in line for your body's list of things to metabolize -- scooting ahead of carbs, proteins and fats. Converting alcohol into metabolic energy is highly inefficient, and therefore you can think of drinking as a way to dampen your fat-burning, muscle-building system. Consuming many drinks is thus a lot like flushing your entire workout down the drain. However, the new rules state that you can at least have a few!

Drinking Beer Is Best

Piggy-backing off the last rule, you again need to limit your amount of drinks consumed. Remember, these are rules intended to keep you on a successful path in terms of your fitness. Want to drink a lot? Well, don't think you won't destroy your fat loss progress! And here's another reason why: think back to the college days, or perhaps just a big summer party -- chances are the more you drank, the more you ate, right? This is what's called a 'dis-inhibition effect,' and alcohol is one of the biggest culprits. Very often people will eat far more while drinking than they otherwise would, and oftentimes the worst types of food (think late-night fast food, or breakfast from a 24-hour diner). 

However, what makes beer the best alcohol to consume (in reasonable quantities)? This dis-inhibition effect I speak of can be magnified by WHAT you've been drinking. Pharmacology and biochemistry studies have shown that beer has a short-term appetite suppressing effect, with bitterness and hops content working as contributors. Why not red wine or mixed drinks? These types of drinks raise your body's cortisol levels, which act as an appetite STIMULANT... making you want to eat more. The structure of the alcohol content in those choices also affect neurotransmitters such as raising dopamine and serotonin. The levels of dopamine regulate desire and reward, causing you to DESIRE food, and seek the reward of, yes, food. If you want to be smart about it under these new rules, again, drinking beer is your best bet.

If Drinking During Meals, Steer Clear of High Carb or Fat Foods

Remember from the first rule that when drinking, alcohol takes precedence in the pecking order of your body's metabolizing list. And, once again, alcohol is very metabolically inefficient. What results is pushing nutrients like carbs and fats into long-term storage, which is exactly what you DON'T want happening. Stick to higher protein meals that include the addition of all the finest vegetables (think about steak or chicken with peas/green beans/carrots). Remember ALSO that if you're going to be drinking certain alcoholic drinks, you may start to think you feel hungrier. Thanks to increased portion sizes, it's highly possible that you may just polish off that glob of mashed potatoes or tray of fries. I don't want to assume anything of anybody, but I'm assuming that's not part of anyone's weight loss strategy.

After A Big Night of Drinking, Wait At Least Two Days For Workouts

And the truth may be that waiting a few days longer may be better. The reason is that your body will be in far too rough of shape for you to perform optimally. Lowered performance in the gym can lead to frustration with exercise in general, decreased progression, and other fitness pitfalls.

Now, obviously sobering up before a workout will be helpful, but why two (or more) days? Because, as was revealed in one study of rugby players getting VERY drunk, two days following their drinking binge their playing performance was still tip top. Keep in mind these are high-level athletes, and their performance only returned after the two-day layoff. Unless you're working out just like an athlete, expecting that you'll perform your own workouts at a high level following a night of heavy drinking is most likely out of the question.

Once again, it's of the utmost importance that you understand that these rules all relate to people who are currently on an exercise regimen, and don't want their consumption of alcohol to destroy any progress. Though these new rules concerning the relationship of alcohol and exercise don't necessarily reveal anything EXTRAORDINARY, it's important to know a little bit about the science of why certain aspects of drinking affect your body. The fact is, there are no shortcuts when it comes to drinking and exercise, just as there are no ways to make awful nutritional choices and expect to get in great shape. However, by abiding these few rules, you'll be sure to maintain your exercise progress while still being able to enjoy a beer or two. Just be sure to stay smart, and stay safe!


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    Very interesting article. One thing I would question is, just because you won't be able to work out to your top performance you shouldn't work out at all? Wouldn't some exercise be better than nothing?