Alcohol and Fitness

By Tia Norris, July 2016 Issue of Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

Summer is here, which means the season of pool parties, BBQs, bikinis and board shorts is upon us. The number one question I get around this time of year is, “do I REALLY have to give up alcohol if I want to stay fit?”

Personally, I don’t drink. But, I realize that everyone has cravings and has things that they want to eat or drink that aren’t on “the program.”

The good news is that there are legitimate ways to drink and stay fit, depending on your goal. Keep in mind that although I’m going to discuss complex topics very quickly and generally, you can always look me up ( or for my sources and proof for everything discussed. Here we go:

The Good

Do I even need to mention the “good” about alcohol? I think the fact that people just like it so damn much is enough justification for them. But, nonetheless, here are some points on some of the benefits of having drinks in moderation:

• Small amounts of alcohol can help reduce stress.

• Alcohol has antioxidants, some cardiovascular benefits and a good cholesterol (HDL) benefits.

• It has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, depression and many other major diseases of our time.

• Moderate amounts can improve insulin sensitivity, which is particularly valuable for diabetics.

The most common reason that my clients want to drink is just that they like it. They like the taste, or they like the feeling. That’s fine. We just need to be smart about how to work it into our fitness program.

The Bad

There are many “bad” things about mixing alcohol and fitness. Of course, all of these effects are exacerbated when drinking in excess. Remember, the more you drink, the worse the effect. Here’s what consuming alcohol does to your body, in a nutshell:

• Alcohol takes metabolic precedence. If you have a great workout, and then eat, and then drink while eating, your body must process the alcohol first, and then the muscle repair and food digestion after that. The more you continue to drink, the less likely your body will actually complete muscle repair and full food digestion. This means your recovery will take longer and your food will be stored as fat.

• Alcohol inhibits glycogen reuptake. Your muscles use glycogen, or stored carbohydrate, as fuel for workouts. When you exercise, you deplete that glycogen from your muscles. After a workout, your body must replenish those glycogen stores. Alcohol partially inhibits this process, meaning that you either lengthen or negate your recovery from your workout.

• Some studies show that alcohol inhibits protein synthesis. Muscles are made of protein. This mechanism is similar to the inhibition of glycogen reuptake, which will also lengthen or negate your recovery time from your workout.

• Alcohol inhibits testosterone and HGH. Low levels of testosterone and HGH are notorious for producing a soft, shapeless physique – not to mention the depressed mood and less mental clarity that are possible side effects.

It’s important to know exactly what you’re up against when you decide to drink.  I’m not telling you to never drink again, but you can be smart about when, how much and what you choose to drink, in conjunction with your fitness goals. So, here’s the plan:

The Plan

Moderation, moderation, moderation. If you are a serious athlete or you are a physique-focused client, I urge you to limit your drinking as much as possible – basically stay as close to “zero” as possible. However, if you are on a fitness program and are looking for more flexibility this summer, limit yourself to two to three drinks no more than one to two nights per night. Any more than six drinks per week and you’ll start to see adverse effects on strength, performance, physique and more.

• What To Eat

On drinking days, seriously limit your fat and carbohydrate intake throughout the entire day. Have as much protein as you want. Keep fats around 20 grams for females and 30 grams for males and carbohydrates around 75 grams for females and 100 grams for males.

• What To Drink

When you do drink, choose lighter colored, more simply mixed (not blended) low-carb drinks. For example, choose light rum over dark spiced rum, go for a cosmopolitan instead of a frozen margarita or opt for a vodka soda with lime, instead of a vodka with cranberry and Sprite.

Remember, knowledge is power. Knowing the good and the bad about alcohol is key to making, and sticking to, an informed plan. Cheers!

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