How Alcohol Consumption––Especially During COVID-19––Can Mess With Your Fitness Goals
Even before a stress-inducing global pandemic that encourages isolation hit, there was a growing, disconcerting trend in the world of drinking, with the American Psychological Association reporting that deaths related to alcohol have more than doubled over the past two decades.
And now that we’re in said pandemic, the problem only looks to worsen. Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) issuing a six-page guidance document entitled “Alcohol and COVID-19: What You Need to Know” stating that “alcohol poses risks to your health and safety and should therefore be avoided during periods of home isolation or quarantine,” just in the first week of COVID-19 alone, alcohol sales across the country shot up by 55 percent. There’s Zoom happy hours (at any hour) a plenty, friends are dropping off boozy care packages on each other’s’ porches, and there’s even recipes like Food & Wine’s “The Cocktail That Will Get Me Through COVID-19.”
So, how does this relate to working out? Here are some of top ways that drinking can negatively impact exercising, even if you’re not working out under the influence:
Alcohol is a depressant
The ultimate paradox of booze is the consumption of a depressant to feel good. And, according to US News, habitual consumption of alcohol leads to a depletion of the very brain chemicals “normally associated with feeling content.” Feelings of depression, irritability, or demotivation can arise—all things that will make it difficult to not only enjoy a workout, but to truly be present in the moment and have the ability to mentally focus. So, if you’re already feeling that way amid COVID-19, drinking will only make it worse. And, even if you do manage to push through a hangover to exercise, you’re not going to experience the same release of serotonin and endorphins because of alcohol screwing with your brain’s normal neurotransmitter functioning.
Alcohol impedes your physical performance
Addictions psychologist Paul Hokemeyer describes alcohol as a “lousy elixir for an efficient workout” (take that, beer yoga). Anyone who’s ever been intoxicated knows that coordination goes out the window, so, your ability to execute moves with proper form decreases, making you more at risk for injury. Even after a night of drinking, your muscles are still fatigued, so your performance capabilities aren’t going to be at their usual level. Alcohol also effects your aerobic capacity, meaning that cardio will be a lot more hardio, and it’s much easier for you to get dehydrated due to alcohol being a diuretic.
Alcohol hinders post-workout recovery
A 2014 study conducted by the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research at Australian Catholic University found that drinking multiple alcoholic beverages after working out decreased protein synthesis, which is key in muscle building and recovery, by 37 percent. #goodbyegains. There’s also the calories to account for if you’re focusing on weight loss––say your spring break got ruined and you’re trying to create those tropical vibes with a pina colada or margarita (or both.) Combined, that’s almost 500 calories. Even a 5 oz. glass of red wine is 125 calories.
Alcohol weakens your immune system
The WHO says it bluntly in its six-page document: “Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.” So, regular alcohol consumption will make it harder for you to recover if you get COVID-19. Even outside of COVID-19, getting sick with anything still puts a damper on your exercise regimen.
I know that I’m a recovering alcoholic who obviously carries her own bias. But you know what isn’t biased? Science. The mother of all things objective and factual. And while it’s understandable to want to relax and check out for a bit with a cold beer or glass of wine, science cannot be any more clear: drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol consistently—especially as a coping mechanism to deal with stress––can take a serious toll not only on your physical health, but on your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. Stay Fit.
If you want to set yourself up to stay healthy and emotionally stable during this weird, stressful, and scary time, one of the most clear-cut ways to do that is by reducing, not increasing, alcohol consumption, and getting in your home workouts. Let’s all do our best to remember that the adage is “movement is medicine,” not “alcohol is medicine.”
Megan is a freelance contributor for G&G Fitness. With a bachelor’s degree in Communication: Journalism & Media from SUNY Geneseo, she is a former staff member of The Buffalo News affiliate The Hamburg Sun, and currently works as a marketing writer at Barclay Damon LLP. Megan is a fan of pilates, weight lifting, and yoga, and has a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with cardio. Her secret for powering through tough workouts is imagining she’s in training to be an Avenger. Follow her on Instagram @happyhealthymkt for at-home workouts, wellness tips, and a lot of dumb jokes.
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