Vitality

Should You Work Out With A Hangover? Drinking Alcohol Affects Energy, Muscle Growth

After a night of heavy drinking, you're eagerly looking for a quick fix to cure your hangover; a jolt of energy to jump start your day (again). A workout sesh at the gym could help you "sweat it out," but should you exercise with a hangover?

Alcohol can negatively impact your athletic performance and strength, even after you've had a day to sober up. Exercising the day after drinking can mean you'll have a lower quality workout, and may reduce the muscle-building benefits of exercise. Previous research has found you're more likely to burn fewer calories during exercise and in between gym visits because alcohol limits the muscle's ability to take up and utilize glucose — its source of energy.

Before delving into muscle growth and recovery, one big caveat of working out after a hangover is dehydration. Drinking alcohol leads to dehydration, which can prolong muscle recovery — since there's decreased blood flow in the muscles — and also increase the risk of heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke.

Dehydration occurs when there isn't enough water to replace what's lost throughout the day. Dehydration can occur because you’re either sick or busy, or have been heavily drinking alcohol. When we drink, we tend to skimp on the water.

Exercising soon after drinking alcohol can make dehydration worse, because you sweat as your body temperature rises. This combination and the diuretic effect of exercise make dehydration more probable. Hydration is essential for exercise to promote blood flow through the body, and to circulate oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.

Woman working out Working out with a hangover can wreak havoc on all your gym gains. Photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations, CC BY 2.0

Alcohol’s effect on the liver can also lead to a short supply of oxygen, interfering with the production of adenosine triphosphate synthesis (ATP) — a direct energy source for muscles. In an animal model, alcohol has been shown to stop muscle growth by preventing the repair of damaged muscle in rats. Moreover, drinking has also led to a decrease in levels of the human growth hormone (HGH), which helps the body build muscle.

However, a drink or two may have no negative effect on muscle recovery. In moderation, alcohol may be ok. A 2011 study found a the equivalent of a shot of orange juice and vodka did not negatively impact muscle recovery.

Drinking a beer or two a few days before a workout won't do harm, but binge drinking the night before can wreak havoc on your fitness levels, and your overall health. So, if you decide to drink, stick with one drink and food. Binge drinking can also lead to binge eating, and cancel out the health gains of exercise.

Remember, it’s all about the gains.

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