Alcohol & The Gym

This article isn't here to demonise alcohol. I mean, what's the point!?

Nearly all of my clients enjoy drinking and luckily for them, there's plenty of research (which this sums up quite well) showing that drinking alcohol and progressing in gym don't have to be mutually exclusive from one another.

The fine art of balancing squat PB's with beer and wine simply comes down to drinking moderately and minimising the damage that drinking and its associated risks entail. 

So how do we do that?

Alcohol and it's issues

First, we need to take a look at alcohol and how it affects us.

Alcohol consumption might of reached it's lowest point in Australia since the 1960's, but the hangover that excessive drinking causes is still an issue.

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Nutrition-related conditions
  • Overweight and obesity 
  • Risks to unborn babies
  • Liver diseases 
  • Mental health conditions 
  • Tolerance 
  • Dependence
  • Long-term cognitive impairment 
  • Self-harm

are just some of the diseases alcohol consumption is associated with - all of which can kill you or significantly reduce your quality of life. 

Excessive drinking is also very harmful to those of us who don't drink as well, with this (and this and this) report(s) finding alcohol to be involved in...

  • 5,500 deaths and 157,000 hospitalisations annually
  • 24,581 assaults on family members
  • 44,852 assaults on the street

and that

  • 75% of all police responses in WA are alcohol related
  • 25% of the nations police budgets are used to respond to alcohol-related incidents
  • 30% of all injuries treated in WA hospital emergency departments are attributable to alcohol
  • 73% of adults have experienced some kind of adverse effect in the last year from someone else’s drinking.

Sobering Stats

If that doesn't sober you up then maybe this will...

20% of Australians are drinking 74% of the whole nations alcohol consumption

Here, read that again...

If you find yourself part of this statistic then achieving any form of progress in the gym is going to be very, very hard.

The stresses put upon your body from excessive drinking simply won't allow you to perform in the gym nor allow you to physiologically adapt and recover from pervious sessions.

Sometimes it's not just the alcohol causing the problems though.

Drinking and it's associated risks

Bad food choices, poor sleep and dangerous decisions generally form parts of a great drunken tale. Unfortunately, these "accomplishments" can also lead to broken bones, bruised ego's and banging headaches. All of which leave little room for progress in the gym (at best) and often lead to sickness or injury (at worst).

Clients who are constantly sick, sore and never motivated enough to progress are generally the ones burning the candle at both ends. You simply can't expect to perform well if your partying well!

But if there's one factor of the partying lifestyle that's wrecking your progress in the gym the most, it's those 3am drunken pizzas, kebabs and curries! 

This is because the body has to "switch off" it's fat burning processes so it can focus on metabolising the alcohol currently flowing through it's system. This means all those extremely high calorie meals we like to consume in extremely high amounts when drunk go straight to our hips! This is before we even consider the excess calories found in the drinks and mixers we've been consuming beforehand!

The Magic of Moderation

But enough of the doom and gloom, lets start focusing on how we can enjoy a drink and still progress in the gym.

The first thing we need to do is understand moderate drinking and how it can help. 

Moderate drinking can actually improves certain health markers. Well, these "suggested" benefits have been called into question and might not necessarily make moderate drinking better than not drinking at all, but it has been shown to...

  • Raise the levels of "good cholesterol" -  preventing harmful blood clots which helps keep blood flowing smoothly through our bodies, reducing risks of heart attack and stroke.
  • Increase insulin sensitivity, which reduces the risk of diabetes, among other things.
  • Slow down mental decline compared to nondrinkers

But the devils in the dosage, so how much alcohol is considered moderate?

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association define moderate drinking as...

One drink = 

  • 150ml wine (roughly one glass)
  • 350ml beer (less than a pint)
  • 44ml of spirit (one shot)

This is the part where many of us realise we can (and do) drink a weeks worth of moderate alcohol on a Saturday night!

So why is it that even though most of us understand binge drinking isn't that great for us , we still do it? How do we go about creating real change and helping people drink more moderately?

Step 1: Improve Your Social Skills

The biggest roadblock I get from clients in terms of curbing their drinking is the social aspect. Clients worry they won't be much fun, their friends will pressure them into drinking (more) and their ability to pick up will be diminished.

Put it this way, if you require alcohol to be fun or to create conversation then you really need to work on your social skills. Yes, dutch courage helps in certain situations, but being able to enjoy yourself and create engaging conversations is something you should able to accomplish sober.

This not only improves your flirting skills, but also your friendships, careers and opens you up to many other life opportunities along the way. Plus, after seeing my friends (obviously not me), I bet your flirting skills don't actually improve when you drink - you're still just as ugly as you were before (my mates definitely) and you probably had a better chance with her/him when you were a little more sober and/or conscious. 

In saying all of this, I do understand how hard it can be as I've endured all of the above experiences myself. I can relate to the awkwardness of being sober in certain situations but I've always found the more you do it, the easier it gets. You'll very quickly become confident and capable of enjoying yourself without needing to be drunk and that's when you'll also start to appreciate the money, health and hangover you save yourself in the process! 

Step 2: Have the right friends

In terms of friends, if they can't or wont support you in trying to better yourself, then they simply shouldn't be your friends. If you're really worried about what they might say at a particular social occasion then maybe flick them a private message asking for their support beforehand.

What would you say if one of your closest friends asked for your support? I'm sure you'd be happy to help them just as much as they'll be willing to help you too.

Step 3: Plan Your Food & Drink

Don't get too bogged down by this but try and pick nutrient dense foods throughout the day/before you start drinking.

Aim for foods high in protein, moderate in carbs and lower in fat's and maybe even prepare something similar for the morning after as well! Sneaking in as much water as you can before, during and after your drinking session will also pay dividends.

As I mentioned earlier - eating whilst drinking is one of biggest obstacles you face so don't go into drinking hungry and try to refrain from those 3am pizza slices! 

Step 4: Sleep

Schedule your commitments in a way that allows you to sleep in a little after a night of drinking. Sleep is very important and compounding your hangover with sleep deprivation is a sure way to make things worse than they need to be!

Step 5: Balance

Drinking should be a fun, social and relaxing event that doesn't impede on any of the health and fitness goals you set yourself.

If your version of drinking doesn't fit the description above them maybe it's time to re-evaluate the way in which you utilise alcohol and why. 

Find your own balance that allows you to enjoy a quiet drink whilst celebrating your gym accomplishments!

Like this guy...