There are a variety of reasons you might think about hitting the gym after downing a few glasses of wine or, who knows, maybe even whiskey shots. We’re not here to judge. Whether you’re doing “drunk yoga,” coming from happy hour, or you find yourself tipsily booking a spot on a pilates reformer after boozy brunch, there are myriad scenarios that may take you from the bar to barre.
To do this can seem exciting. After all, you dug deep, and found the motivation to get your sweat on — even when the odds were against you, thanks to the sedative effects of alcohol. But it is it really a good idea?
Is it bad to workout after drinking?
Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a NYC-based addictions psychologist, senior clinical fellow at Urban Recovery, and author of the upcoming book, Fragile Power: Why Having It All Is Never Enough, says he’d advise against it.
“It’s important to be fully present when working out, and alcohol interferes with that presence,” he says. Hokemeyer explains that alcohol is a chemical compound that has a “profound impact on the complex network of neurons we collectively refer to as our brain.”
“When we put alcohol into our body, it immediately begins to compromise how well we think, how gracefully we move, and how well we assess risks,” he says.
Unlike caffeine, which is a stimulant that has minimal calories and speeds up your metabolism, alcohol is a nervous system depressant that slows everything down, he explains. Ultimately, it can slow down your capacity to burn energy and add muscle mass. “It’s a lousy elixir for an efficient workout,” he adds blatantly. “While it might make the songs blaring through your smartphone seem sexier, it will do nothing to enhance your physical allure.”
How does drinking affect your workout?
John Hawley, the director of the Mary MacKillop Institute for health research at Australian Catholic University and the co-author of a 2014 study on alcohol and exercise, says it doesn’t just impact the way you train, but what happens afterward.
His research found that when it comes to building muscle, booze isn’t the ideal bedfellow. Although his research focused on post-workout consumption, he says that, similarly, drinking can impair post-exercise rates of protein synthesis (which aids recovery and generally increases the size of your muscles), depending on how much you drink. Quantity of booze matters a lot.
“Any alcohol consumption that either impairs the intensity, duration, or quality of a workout is detrimental,” he says. “And although alcohol may reduce the perception of effort during exercise — how hard you feel you are working — this is usually associated with a reduction in intensity. So, compared to no alcohol, post alcohol intake workouts are likely to interfere with the quality of workouts.”
What’s my body doing on booze?
Aside from impacting your muscles and recovery, alcohol can hurt your body in other ways, Hokemeyer explains. It also can suppress your immune system and make it harder to fight off germs. This isn’t great if the last person who used those 15-pound dumbbells at the gym had a cold. “So if working off a hangover at the gym is your thing, be sure to pack your hand sanitizer,” he says.
Meanwhile, alcohol is known to be a diuretic which makes you pee more and leave you dehydrated. If you layer on sweating from a workout, it can be downright dangerous. That’s why you should especially avoid activities like hot yoga if you’re thinking of exercising after a mimosa.
Hokemeyer feels passionate about this one. “Under no circumstances should a person do hot yoga after they’ve had alcohol,” he says. “The risks for dehydration and cardiac events are too great. Also any sort of intense physical activity under the influence of alcohol will place stress on the persons body they don’t need. The whole point of exercising is to enhance one’s physical and mental wellbeing rather than compromising it.”
How long should you wait to workout after drinking?
The experts say as long as possible. It can take the liver about an hour to metabolize one ounce of liquor or one standard drink, according to The University of California, Santa Cruz’s health center, so at least that long if you’ve just had one glass. However, there are other factors that can impact the way you process alcohol and how intoxicated you are, such as gender or medications you’re on, according to guidance from Bowling Green State University. So it’s best to wait longer. Hokemeyer recommends at least four hours per drink to be safe.
If you want to go any sooner than that, it can be helpful to drink a lot of water, and keep your workout on the short side if you must hulk out that day.
Ultimately, it’s best to pull the reins on yourself. Staying safe and being kind to your body is more important than leg day.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?