Here’s What Happens To Your Body When You Exercise After Drinking

By : Jennifer Browne |


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Ever had a workout planned and a friend invites you out for happy hour? 2-4-1 cocktails? Tequila Tuesday? And you just can’t say no?

You may as well go – a few drinks won’t hurt – and then you can workout after, right?

To get to the bottom of it, Buzzfeed Health spoke to Aaron White, Ph.D, senior scientific advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and Thomas Allison, Ph.D, Director of the Integrated Stress Testing Center at the Minnesota Sports Cardiology Clinic. This is what they found out.

First of all, this is what happens to your body when you drink alcohol:

Senior scientific advisor Aaron White, Ph.D, said:

When you drink, the alcohol goes to your stomach and then is absorbed in the small intestine.

Alcohol is a small molecule that goes wherever the water goes in your body, which is everywhere, and that includes your brain.

Food slows down the rate of absorption (which can be as quick as half an hour) – that’s why alcohol affects you more quickly on an empty stomach. So how quickly you digest alcohol is also going to depend on what else you’ve had to eat that day. If you’re drinking on an empty stomach, you’re going to feel the effects much more (and much faster).

For most people, it’ll take a few drinks to really feel the effects while exercising.

Thomas Allison, Ph.D,Thomas Allison, Ph.D, says that studies show it will take a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of around .08 for you to experience muscle strength and endurance loss or feel lightheaded and dizzy while exercising. That’s around two to three drinks for a 140-pound person and four to five for a 160-pound person, Buzzfeed reports.

But these affects depend on each person, and you may very well feel that alcohol a lot more when you’re running around or doing your workout outside in the sun rather than an air-conditioned gym.

But just one drink can affect the way your brain works.

It may take a couple drinks before you’ll feel the effects while exercising, but it only takes one unit to affect the way your brain works.

White says it can take only one drink for your balance, decision making, and reaction time to be affected. That’s because alcohol targets the parts of the brain that control happy feelings, your motor coordination and balance, your behaviour and decision making, and how anxious you can get.

So, say if your coordination is off because you had a pint, you could accidentally hurt yourself while working out or playing a sport. Or because your decision making is off, you may not be as careful when weight lifting and hurt yourself.

Still want to workout after a drink? Turns out it can affect the way you build muscle and recover.

Allison told Buzzfeed:

Alcohol impairs protein synthesis and decreases growth hormone and testosterone, which slows down your muscle growth and recovery.

So drinking before weightlifting or after, even if you can do the reps and lift the weight during your workout, will affect your body’s ability to repair the muscles and get stronger.

Doesn’t sound great.

Not to mention your energy levels and endurance will take a pretty big hit.

Basically, when you work out sober, your heart rate picks up and your heart pumps blood to your muscles to get them oxygen and glucose to burn energy. But when you’ve had a drink, the blood vessels in your skin dilate and steal blood from your muscles, then the alcohol competes with glucose as a fuel and your body’s ability to workout efficiently is pretty much shot.

Allison says most people won’t be able to notice much after one drink, but that after two drinks (depending on your tolerance) there will be mild but noticeable impairment – especially if you’re trying to perform at maximum exertion.

Basically, it’s okay to do light exercise after a drink.

If you’ve had a few drinks, definitely don’t try exercises or activities that involve lots of concentration or balance. Pretty much just stay away from trail biking or running and heavy lifting.

Light exercises though, are fine.

Allison says:

If you’re stopping at happy hour before you go to the gym, you’re definitely not helping yourself. But if you’re just having one to two drinks, and you’re not eating a ton, then it’s not going to hurt.

So basically, drinking before exercising isn’t going to hurt you, but it’s not going to help you. We can drink to that.


Buzzfeed Health