There is a growing trend of athletes consuming alcohol after exercise. Whether it is to celebrate a win, nurse a loss, or just to let loose with teammates or friends, athletes are consuming more alcohol after exercise on a more regular basis. But it’s not only elite athletes enjoying a celebratory beverage after a game or practice, all kinds of athletes, even those who only run a couple of times a week, are indulging, and, usually, without knowing the risks.
One of the most important resources we have is glycogen. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose found in the muscle tissue and other areas of the body that is broken down into sugar and then ATP to provide the energy for our muscles to contract and for us to move. Without sufficient stores of glycogen in the muscle tissue, performance and endurance suffer. During exercise, glycogen is depleted, and the intensity of the exercise determines how quickly muscle stores are utilized. In other words, sprinting will deplete muscle glycogen much faster than jogging will. Once glycogen stores have been depleted, they need to be replenished. The most efficient way to do this is to consume a carbohydrate rich meal after exercise, when muscles absorb sugar more quickly and easily, focusing mainly on high glycemic carbohydrates which enter the bloodstream more rapidly.
While this may seem easy to do, many people struggle, sometimes because of alcohol consumption. Some studies have shown that the consumption of alcohol after exercise inhibits the muscle’s ability to take in and use sugar while also decreasing the rate at which the sugar is absorbed. Another study showed that consuming alcohol may also increase the body’s insulin response, causing the sugar to leave the blood before it can reach the muscle tissue. Overall, however, it seems that these effects are mainly short-term, as all of the studies found that the subjects’ glycogen stores were fully replenished after a 24-hour recovery period regardless of alcohol consumption.
If you choose to indulge in alcohol after you exercise, it is not likely to have any significant negative impacts on your performance or glycogen stores so long as you consume it responsibly. Some researchers have theorized that people engaging in binge drinking after exercise could suffer from depleted glycogen stores because the alcohol would replace the necessary carbohydrates they would otherwise consume. Therefore, consuming a moderate amount of alcohol, one drink per day for women and two for men, with adequate amounts of carbohydrates following a workout should have no negative effect on your performance and recovery.
Meghan Dempsey – ASU Dietetic Intern
Heather Casey MS, RD, LDN – Clinical Registered Dietitian
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