For many people, finding time to work out means exercising during their leisure time after a busy day. When juggling work commitments and family responsibilities, it makes sense that many people consider capping off a trip to the gym with an alcoholic beverage.
What’s more, some events, such as Tough Mudder (an obstacle-based mud run) and the Marathon du Médoc in Bordeaux, France, offer alcoholic drinks either at the end of or throughout the course as part of the overall experience.
But aside from celebrating the end of a training season, tough race, or long day, you may wonder whether drinking alcohol after working out serves a purpose.
This article delves into the effects of drinking alcohol after exercise to explore whether there are health benefits to a post-workout toast — or just a potential hangover.
Is it bad to drink alcohol after working out?
That depends. If you have specific goals — for example, to build muscle — and you’re looking for effective and efficient ways to achieve this goal, it’s probably best to abstain from drinking right after a workout.
This is because alcohol slows the natural recovery process from your workout session by elevating your cortisol levels, decreasing your testosterone levels, and inhibiting protein synthesis (1).
Jenaed Brodell is a well-known Registered Dietitian and Sports Scientist practicing at Nutrition & Co. in the United Kingdom. She explains, “Your body treats alcohol as a toxin; therefore, muscle and fat burning is inhibited as your body prioritizes getting rid of alcohol.”
Physiologically, it’s not helpful to drink after a workout if you’re attempting to achieve fitness gains, especially if you enjoy a post-workout alcoholic beverage regularly.
However, having a drink after a workout once in a while isn’t really going to have long-term effects. If the end of your workout overlaps with the beginning of a social function, completing your workout is most likely better than not doing it at all.
How long should you wait to drink alcohol after working out?
Suzie Wylie, a former professional Muay Thai fighter and Registered Nutritionist at the London Clinic of Nutrition, focuses on the importance of keeping yourself hydrated if you do decide to drink alcohol after exercise.
“The first priority following a workout should be to replenish electrolytes, rehydrate with water, and fuel correctly with a nutritious meal or snack consisting of both carbohydrates and protein. For most people, waiting at least 1 hour between finishing your workout and having your first alcoholic beverage is a good minimum to aim for,” she says.
In fact, exercise has been shown to help decrease the urge to drink (2).
“So, after waiting an hour or two, you may find you don’t want that alcoholic beverage after all,” she goes on to say.
Does drinking negate the benefits of my workout?
Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) following strenuous exercise (3).
Your body needs carbs and protein to recover from exercise.
One study found that even when alcohol is consumed with protein after exercise, MPS is reduced by up to 37%. This affects recovery, muscle growth, and adaptation to exercise, especially after resistance training and high intensity interval training (3).
Wylie notes that it also depends on how much you drink. “The inhibitory effects on protein synthesis are larger the more you drink,” she explains.
Still, while alcohol won’t help you gain muscle mass, it probably won’t hinder your recovery. A few studies including both men and women found that moderate amounts of alcohol consumed after exercise didn’t necessarily inhibit muscular recovery (4, 5).
Are there any benefits to drinking alcohol after a workout?
“Although alcohol consumption following a workout has been shown to impair MPS, it hasn’t been shown to have a long-term negative influence on performance. This does not imply that alcohol consumption has any benefits following a workout, though,” says Wylie.
While there aren’t really any benefits to drinking after a workout, if you do have an adult beverage, choose wisely.
Brodell suggests beer over liquor. “If you have to drink, go for a beer,” she advises.
“Beer contains electrolytes and carbohydrates. I’d recommend trying to alternate between water and beer every few sips to keep the rehydration going. It’s important to keep in mind that no conclusive evidence shows that drinking a beer after your workout is beneficial. However, in comparison to spirits, it’s the lesser of the two evils.”
Are there any risks to drinking alcohol after a workout?
To date, research does not suggest that consuming moderate amounts of alcohol after a workout harms long-term health among individuals without alcohol dependency (5).
Brodell highlights dehydration as a risk. “The biggest concern when it comes to drinking alcohol after exercise is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it encourages your body to release more fluids,” she explains.
“When we exercise, especially at higher intensities or in hot climates, we lose a large amount of fluid from sweating, have electrolyte depletions, and can also have a reduction in blood volume as the body tries to cool. It’s important to restore these fluid levels post-workout, but drinking alcohol can delay that process.”
If you’re nursing an injury, Brodell says alcohol could also be detrimental.
“Alcohol consumption post-exercise can also introduce additional swelling into your tissues, since it opens up blood vessels. It can make an injury worse by encouraging swelling at the injury site. This occurs by inhibiting the functions of hormones that usually aid this recovery process, such as testosterone,” she goes on to say.
“A meal or snack consisting of both carbohydrates and protein consumed shortly after your workout will help replenish the stored energy in your muscles. Snacking while drinking alcohol will also help slow its absorption.”
The bottom line
Rehydration and restoring electrolytes is the number one priority post-workout.
Therefore, drinking alcohol after your workout isn’t ideal. For the best results — especially when it comes to muscle growth — avoid alcohol and refuel with plenty of protein and carbs.
Done in moderation and only occasionally, drinking after a workout won’t harm you. Beer may have a slight edge over liquor when it comes to choosing your post-exercise beverage, but be sure to double fist with water, too, so your body can fully rehydrate.