After crossing the finish line at a half marathon or sweating through a Friday night bootcamp class, nothing sounds better than a cold beer or giant glass of wine. You deserve to celebrate and relax after putting in all that hard work, right?
Well, it turns out, you’ll want to pour carefully. We asked some top medical and fitness experts whether it’s safe to drink post-workout, how many drinks you can have, and what you’ll need to do to counter the booze. Here’s what they said.
Meet the Expert
Is it Bad to Have a Few Drinks After Working Out?
Even though it might be tempting to raise a glass after you hit the gym, remember that you should always be rehydrating with water and electrolytes first, explains Lynell Ross, an ACE-certified personal trainer and health and wellness coach. “You may want to wait a while to drink alcohol after a workout because it can dehydrate you,” she says. “Knowing that alcohol is a diuretic may help you choose water instead to make sure you are well hydrated. Alcohol removes needed fluids from the kidneys, ureters, and bladder very quickly, at a time that you need to be replenishing lost fluids with water.”
What’s more, it can interfere with your recovery process, notes Amy Lee, MD, head of nutrition at Nucific. “Drinking after a workout isn't recommended since alcohol might affect the recovery process of your muscles,” she says. “It does so by inhibiting the functions of hormones responsible for recovery, such as testosterone. Alcohol also slows down protein synthesis—what you need for muscle growth.”
Lee says alcohol can interfere with your sleep, too, and rest is crucial for recovery after exercising. That may slow you down the next time you go for a run or hop on your Spin bike. “Alcohol will also affect your sleeping patterns," he says. "The mix of affected recovery, dehydration, and lack of enough sleep will only affect your strength and power for your next workout session.”
Overall, Ross says, it’s not the best or smartest choice. However, having a boozy beverage every once in a while after working out probably isn’t going to hurt you all that much in the long run. Just rehydrate with water or a low-sugar sports drink with electrolytes—and know your limits.
“Everyone is affected differently, so If you want to have an alcoholic beverage after a workout, make sure you are hydrated, have something to eat, and then decide how you feel,” she recommends. “If you have replenished fluids lost through exercising with water and want to have one drink, that won't harm you. However, if you don't hydrate and drink alcohol after exercise, you can become lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous.”
And it goes without saying—but it’s never safe to drink and drive. Take an Uber or have a friend drive you home if you are going to drink.
If You’re Going to Drink, Make it a Beer
Even if you’re rehydrated and fed, hard liquor still isn’t a smart choice post-workout. (It can dehydrate you further.) So don’t run straight for the bar. However, the brewery might be OK, Lee says.
“If you have to drink, go for a beer. Beer contains electrolytes and carbs and will also help hydrate you and possibly reduce post-workout inflammation,” she says. Try alternating between water and your beer every few sips to keep the rehydration process going for best results.
Ross says it’s also smart to recognize how much alcohol is in each type of drink. “According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a standard drink in the United States contains about 14 grams, or 0.6 ounces of alcohol. This equates to one 12-ounce beer at 5% alcohol, 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol and 1.5 ounces of liquor, which contains 40% alcohol,” she says. “Inform yourself about the type of alcohol you are drinking and how it affects you.”
How Many Drinks is Too Many Drinks?
Everyone’s limits vary for how many drinks they can handle at once and how alcohol affects them. You might feel tipsy after one beer while your friend can drink several without feeling buzzed, for example.
But in general, you should limit the amount you consume per week. “Previously, guidelines have stated two drinks for men per day and one drink for women, but recently, CDC guidelines have leaned towards one drink each, per day, for men and women,” Lee says.