How Alcohol Affects Your Health, Performance and Fitness Goals

Jeff Baldelli
Written by
Last update:

Your Body on Alcohol: How Alcohol Operates

Alcohol is a drug and the mind/body quickly becomes addicted. When you drink alcohol, you automatically start to crave it. Alcohol’s ability to disrupt normal thought patterns is arguably the biggest reason why alcohol consumption leads to addiction and why is becomes so hard to quit.

Research suggests that the feeling of being “high” is produced by alcohol’s effect on the brain’s nerve cells. Nerve impulses are sent across a synapse, which is the gap separating two nerve cells.

Alcohol interferes with this process. Research has shown us that once alcohol enters the brain, it stops nerves from giving off the neurotransmitter glutamate.

When your brain is exposed to alcohol, it tries to overcome the effects of the drug by increasing the brain’s sensitivity to glutamate, resulting in an overreaction. This triggers the brain to release excess amounts of glutamate, which then causes the N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptors in the brain to become temporarily overwhelmed.

As a consequence of the excess glutamate, normal brain activity is disrupted and you gain an immediate sense of being drunk or “high.”

The ability of alcohol to cause glutamate release is one reason why alcohol can have such a terrible impact on brain health over time.

Alcohol messes with your sleep

Alcohol makes you fall asleep, but then it disrupts your normal sleep cycle and doesn’t let you get the rest you need. It’s not healthy to be drinking close to bedtime.

The reason for this disruption is because alcohol is a depressant, which makes you feel drowsy. As you fall asleep, your body begins to relax, but then alcohol makes the neurons in your brain fire excessively, which revs you back up like a car turning over. You may sleep deeply for a short period of time, but you’ll wake up feeling groggy and disoriented, making it hard to return to sleep.

Drinking may also affect the quality of your sleep. Normally, in dim light, your body releases melatonin, a hormone that signals to your body that you’re ready for sleep. Alcohol slows the release of this hormone, keeping you more alert and awake.

Excessive alcohol consumption can affect your hormones

Related to sex, fat, muscle and performance.

Alcohol is a toxin and all the cells in your body, including muscle cells, are not metabolically primed to deal with it. So, you can already see why it will have a negative effect on your muscles.–

About 20% of the alcohol you consume is broken down to acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde slows protein synthesis. It is responsible for the well-known hangover symptoms such as fatigue and the lack of motivation to work out. It’s also NMDA receptor antagonist that can slow down recovery from damage, increasing your risk of injuries.

How does alcohol limit fat loss?

Excess alcohol consumption can elevate insulin levels, leading to increased fat storage.

Some people rely on drinking too much alcohol to hinder their diet. However, as mentioned above, alcohol does this by elevating insulin levels, which trigger a resistance to the actions of insulin.

So, what initially works, quickly backfires because your body becomes resistant to insulin-stimulated fat storage.

Excessive alcohol consumption also inhibits your testosterone production, blocking estrogen from being released. This will decrease your muscle mass, strength and libido. It can also decrease fat burning as estrogen assists with fat loss.

Alcohol can make you hungry

People often mistake alcohol for being an appetite suppressant. This is because it actually does decrease fullness ratings and has a potential role in suppressing leptin and releasing ghrelin.

Alcohol = Liquid Calories

Alcohol is a calorie dense liquid. One ounce of alcohol contains over 7 calories, while the same volume of regular soda cans 5 or 6 calories (depending on the flavor.) So if you’re having several drinks, you’re likely to consume a substantial number of calories. And if you’re calorie conscious, you may be tempted to compensate for these calories.

Most folks don’t consider drinking while out to eat. But those calories can really add up. You might consider having a non-alcoholic drink with your dinner. And keep in mind the concept of the “empty calorie” and remember that alcohol doesn’t provide any nutrients.

If you’re going to drink at dinner, talk to your server to see if you can order a meal that’s low in calories, such as a go easy on the bread, dressing on the salad, and no cheese option.

If you’re going to be drinking a lot at dinner or want to have a cocktail at a party, enjoy a healthy snack before you do so. A few slices of fruit, a bowl of nuts, or a few pieces of raw veggies can help to curb your appetite and keep you on the straight and narrow.

Why Alcohol May Not Actually Be Such a Big Deal

Many people believe that a glass of wine, a beer, or a shot of liquor here and there is good for health. While this may work for some people, the reality is that alcohol can set you back further than you realize.

Alcohol does have some benefits. It can help you unwind and let go of tension when consumed in moderation. It is also an ingredient in some medication so that people can successfully manage addiction.

However, regular consumption of alcohol has many disadvantages. Let’s take an in-depth look at how alcohol affects your health, performance and fitness goals.

Moderate alcohol use increases Insulin Sensitivity

There has been a lot of media coverage over the years on the health and performance benefits of doing Crossfit or any other high-intensity training program. However, despite popular belief, alcohol consumption can also have a positive effect on your performance in the gym and improve your health overall. Have you ever noticed how some of the fittest people you know are also those that enjoy having a few drinks? If you are a fitness enthusiast, you can safely drink a reasonable amount of alcohol and still feel good while doing it!

Moderate alcohol intake actually enhances the release of insulin. It’s like a low, slow-release sweetness that is released into the blood during the digestion process. So that means that consuming alcohol with your workout may actually help to improve your insulin sensitivity.

As stated before, moderate alcohol intake may not be a bad thing at all! However, studies show that being constantly drunk throughout the week is hazardous to your health. One study in 2010, showed that women who had one drink per day had a lower risk of dying at a younger age, while women who reported consuming two drinks per day actually had a higher risk of dying at a younger age than nondrinkers.

Enjoyment & Living are important – Restriction is a Recipe for Failure

We all love to indulge in our vices every once in a while. Maybe it’s a glass of wine with dinner. Perhaps it’s finding time to get a beer – or six – after the kids go to bed. But what if you found out that boozing actually affects your health, performance, and fitness goals?

Alcohol has been something that’s been intertwined with human history and culture. It’s found its way in so many parts of our lives, with so many people, that it somehow seems normal. But it’s not.

There’s no denying the fact that alcohol has a powerful effect on our gut and brain chemistry. It sends your neurotransmitters in a tizzy, and messes with your hormone and immune system regulation. It also creates an “open door” to all of your fat stores so they can be used for quick energy.

However, all of these effects are short-term. While the immediate disadvantages of alcohol are easy to see, being aware of the long-term effects will pull you out of your blissful little bubble, and make you question your love for this stuff. Here’s a look!

What are Your Fitness Goals, and How to Mesh Your Goals with Drinking

If you are looking to improve your fitness, one of the biggest obstacles is going to be resisting alcohol. Many people think that they’re not hurting themselves by drinking.

Maintaining a healthy balance between one’s alcohol consumption and their fitness goals can be difficult. But there are some tips and tricks to help you fill your favorite glass while also maintaining your health and fitness goals.

You’re Too Busy to Exercise

If you feel like you’re too busy to add in an exercise routine, you’re not alone. Exercise is a tough thing to add into a busy lifestyle, and many people who try to maintain a workout schedule will quit within a couple of weeks.

The trick is to find an activity that you can enjoy, while also adding in a bit of fitness. If you’re not into gyms, and you don’t enjoy running, you may have a hard time finding an exercise that you’re going to stick to.

One great way of maintaining your exercise schedule is to find a partner that you can work out with. If you know that you’re going to spend the extra time with a friend, it’s a lot easier to make that time.

What Alcohol Drinks are the Worst and Which are Fine to Drink?

First things first: don’t drink and exercise.

There are no proven benefits of alcohol during exercise. Actually, some studies show that alcohol can negatively affect your workouts. Some of the ways that alcohol negatively affects your performance include:

  • Alcohol raises your body temperature, slowing your reaction time and balance and forcing your body to use calories to cool down
  • Alcohol causes significant dehydration
  • Alcohol increases muscle stiffness, increasing the chance of muscle strain and resulting in significant muscle damage
  • Alcohol significantly depletes your energy, making your workout significantly less productive
  • Alcohol reduces your coordination, costing you strength

Alcohol can confuse your body by producing false signals to send more blood to the muscles. But when the alcohol wears off and your blood pressure drops quickly, your muscles are robbed of the blood needed for exercise – and this can result in chest pain.

Alcohol is bad for short, intense workouts. It’s more likely to mess up your coordination, stamina, reaction time, balance, reaction time, and strength – which are vital to maximizing your workout.

Prolonged alcohol use damages the body in many ways … and you are going to need your body to stay healthy long before you reach your goals.

“Healthy” Drinking Tips – How to Partake Without Sabotaging Your Goals

It’s hard to even call this a recipe – if you even want to call it a recipe. I call it a combination of ingredients that are healthy for you, that taste great together, and provide the basic macro nutrients we all looking for to stay healthy. A recipe would include measurements for all the ingredients.

My tip is to simply throw the following into a blender:

  • Half a bag of frozen mango slices
  • A handful of baby spinach
  • A handful of frozen raspberries
  • A– cup of frozen blueberries
  • A– cup of blueberries
  • A beaten egg
  • A– cup of raw oats
  • Ice
  • Blend, pour, and enjoy!

This provides the micro and macro nutrients your body desires. If you’re worried about being hungry before hitting the gym, drink this smoothie about an hour before and you won’t be hungry after your workout.

This smoothie gives you calories to burn from the oats, enough protein to build muscle from the egg, and fruit to provide the insulin spike your muscles need after lifting weights.

The added spinach and raspberries are simple and tasty ways to get your recommended daily amount of greens.

Plan your drinking

It’s important to know exactly how much you’re drinking when you’re out with friends. This has a lot to do with how much you’re drinking and what you’re drinking.

Alcoholic drinks that have more sugar and less alcohol are more likely to lead to conditions that cause your blood sugar to spike. This can lead to you feeling uncomfortably full quickly or even over-eating. Check out what type of drinks you’re consuming and try to stick to higher quality liquors.

What You Eat

The combination of alcohol and certain foods can be a double- whammy.

The food is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and can quickly lead to a spike in blood sugar.

Combining alcohol with a carb-heavy meal causes a spike in insulin, which results in a crash.

This crash is what sometimes causes people to over-eat.

Limit your alcohol intake for a little while before meals and your food will be better digested.

Get a rotation going

As I mentioned before, beer is a great source of barley. Barley is filled with fiber and so is great for helping you to become regular with your bowel movements. It is also high in protein and helps your body recover after a tough workout session and helps to promote efficient fat burning.

If you are a man, beer can also help you to improve your sex life and your libido. It has been shown to increase the concentration of your testosterone levels which helps to improve your stamina, muscle mass and even bone density. This is especially important for those of you who engage in resistance training and weight training. So brewers owe all of you bodybuilders out there a great big thank you ….

And if you are among those of us who like to run and are training for the next big race or are just looking for a way to improve your performance and speed, then it is time you look towards beer as it can help you to lose weight and also give you more energy for longer runs.

Use calorie and carb free mixers

Alcohol isn’t just empty calories. It has a lot of calories. In fact, it has seven calories per gram. This is more than fat, which comes with nine calories per gram.

It’s also found in alcoholic drinks at lots of calories per gram. A normal lite beer packs a hefty 8 calories per gram. Wine and spirits are better, but not by much. There are still six calories per gram in red wine and 110 calories per gram in vodka.

One of the reasons why alcohol has so much calories is the way it affects the body. Alcohol calories aren’t metabolized, unlike calories from most foods that are burned in digestion. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

What does this mean? The body doesn’t need to burn away the calories in order to use the alcohol you drink. Instead, it gets used just like carbs or fat.

Alcohol calories add up easily, especially if you’re drinking it with tempting, calorie-dense foods.

Just four ounces of lite beer has 118 calories. Compare that to lite beer’s regular cousin. A four-ounce regular beer has 150 calories. In this case, light beer really is better.