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Alcohol after sports: What does beer really do after a workout?

Alcohol after sport

How alcohol affects your body

Alcohol after sports – a social custom

We all know: Alcohol and sports don’t really go together – but it would be naive to say that alcohol doesn’t play a role for athletes. 

Especially among amateur athletes, alcohol after the (joint) unit is almost part of it. It’s a social custom to have a beer or two after a workout – or to treat yourself to a “reward glass.”

The average “adult” (>15j.) consumes approx. 4,3l pure alcohol per year, which share athletes make here, is not known. [1]

However, the type of sport certainly has a certain influence on alcohol consumption. So a little more beer should flow at the apres-ski than after the tennis tournament. In general, there is certainly hardly any athlete who has never celebrated a success or defeat something (more). 

There is basically nothing wrong with that either. However, you should be aware of the consequences – and should therefore make your consumption of alcohol after sports (if then) conscious.

Negative effects of alcohol on athletes

Here’s how beer affects your water balance after a workout

Beer or cocktails are not suitable as thirst quenchers after sports. During sports, we lose fluid through sweat. At best, this should be resumed during as well as after training/competition. If too little fluid is supplied, there is a risk of dehydration. 

So if you reach for a beer instead of a water bottle right after a workout, it’s not very beneficial for your water balance.

If your drink is stronger than 4%, it has a diuretic effect on your body [1]. That is, the drink promotes your urination and thus of course also the water excretion. Accordingly, it makes more sense to first hydrate properly with a sports drink and if then only later to switch to alcohol. 

In a well-hydrated state, 1-2 beers then do not have a harmful effect on water balance. This was found out by Jimenez-Pavon et al. However, this study was conducted exclusively on men and thus the data cannot be directly applied to women. Due to the different body composition, a correspondingly lower consumption already has an effect on the fluid balance for women.

It must also be emphasized that beer is not a super alcohol. As already mentioned, the percentage of the beverage influences the effect on water balance. Thus, if the study was conducted with beer, the data cannot simply be transferred to another beverage.[2]

A weak immune system due to (too much) alcohol after sports

Unsurprisingly, alcohol weakens the immune system. Susceptibility to infection increases with frequent drinking. 

It is important for athletes to know this: After physically high loads, our body is weakened anyway, and we are more susceptible to infections.

If we now combine these two facts, it becomes clear that (too much) alcohol after training puts even more strain on the immune system. It is therefore advisable to supply energy first after the competition in any case.

In this way, you not only protect your immune system, but also avoid a lack of energy. You can read more HERE.

Increased risk of injury and longer rehab time 

Alcohol can negatively affect injury breaks in two ways.

First, regular (heavy) alcohol consumption increases the risk of injury. This is due to the fact that alcohol reduces testosterone excretion by up to 24%. Accordingly, men are somewhat more affected than women.

Lowering testosterone levels has a negative effect on bone density. Lower bone density indirectly correlates with fracture risk, which ultimately increases the likelihood of injury [2].

But even if an injury has already occurred, increased alcohol consumption has a negative effect.

If this is the case, alcohol can drag out the rehab process and delay muscle rebuilding. In the following paragraph we will explain in more detail why this is the case.

Why strength training and alcohol do not mix

After muscularly particularly strenuous units, muscle protein synthesis is increased. This process can now be optimized – or inhibited – by the right nutrient supply.

Optimally, high-quality proteins are supplied, which strengthen your muscles and help you to regenerate in the best possible way. Suitable for this purpose would be, for example, our
which contains all eight essential amino acids. This is especially beneficial after muscularly demanding units.

On the other hand, it makes less sense to consume (a lot of) alcohol during the regeneration phase. There is ample evidence that this has a bad effect on muscle protein synthesis. This has something to do with the mTORC1 signal path.

Indeed, alcohol appears to inhibit the activation of mTORC1. Activation of mTORC1 is a key step in increasing muscle protein synthesis after strength training. If mTORC1 is not activated, the synthesis of the muscle protein is hardly stimulated and the effect of the training is absent.

Pair et al. investigated the precise effects of alcohol on muscle protein synthesis. After completed training was administered:

  • Alcohol in combination with carbohydrates
  • Alcohol combined with proteins and
  • Protein only

It became apparent that muscle protein synthesis decreased by 37% due to alcohol and carbohydrates compared to pure protein. Combining alcohol with proteins decreased muscle protein synthesis by 24% [3].

Reduction of muscle protein synthesis by alcohol consumption alone has not been studied. However, it seems logical that the decline would be even greater.

Because most studies on alcohol have looked only at men, Duplanty et al. conducted a study that also included women.

The results of this study showed that the inhibition of mTORC1 was significantly lower in females. Of course, this should not be taken as a free pass to swap water for alcohol after training. The consequences for women were also far from positive.

Furthermore, it must be noted that the data of this study cannot be translated 1:1 into practice. Thus, quantities of alcohol equivalent to about 5 glasses of vodka were drunk (for men 7 glasses of vodka). The amount was drunk within 10 minutes after exercise [4].

Alcohol lowers the concentration

The effect of alcohol on cognitive abilities should also not be forgotten. Reactivity as well as concentration are impaired by alcohol consumption.

If we think of sports such as biathlon, sport shooting or even soccer, this definitely plays an important role. Alcohol also affects the quality and quantity of sleep, which in turn has a massive impact on the immune system [1].

5 simple tips to better manage alcohol after sports

We can use the findings of science and take 5 tips from it to improve the way we deal with alcohol. 

Of course, it makes just as much sense from a health perspective to abstain from alcohol completely. However, we do not want to dictate anything to you, but rather give you practical tips for a more conscious handling of alcohol along the way.

  1. Replenish your glycogen stores first before reaching for 1-2 post-workout beers.
  2. In addition to alcohol, always drink water to preserve your water balance.
  3. Avoid (high) alcohol consumption especially during your injury break.
  4. If you want to party after a strength training session, provide your body with high-quality proteins beforehand.
  5. If your performance is heavily dependent on your concentration, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum the day before.

[1] M. J. Barnes, “Alcohol: Impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes,” Sports. Med., vol. 44, no. 7, pp. 909-919, 2014, doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0192-8.
[2] Jimenez-Pavon et al. 2015; Effects of a moderate intake of beer on markers of hydration after exercise in the heat: a crossover study.
[3] Paar et al. PLOS ONE 2014 Alcohol impairs post-exercise muscle protein synthesis
[4] Duplanty A.A. et al. (2016) Effect of Acute Alcohol Ingestion on Resistance Exercise Induced mTORC1 Signaling in Human Muscle. J.Strength Cond.Res. In print

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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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