Okay, so the title sounds like a statement of the obvious but have you ever thought to yourself “since I’m going to be drinking tonight, maybe I’ll just workout hard today to make up for it”? If so, you’re not alone. At Physiomed, we treat a number of athletes and highly active individuals who, like most people, like to let loose every once in a while when out with friends or while visiting family. So, not surprisingly, we’ve heard this idea expressed many times before. However, while we all know that excessive alcohol consumption is unhealthy for a variety of reasons, what most people don’t know is that working out hard during the day not only doesn’t compensate for even a single night of heavy drinking, it actually hurts your body. Here’s why:

First, it’s important to understand that our bodies grow and recover at night. When we fall asleep, our bodies naturally releases growth hormones early in the process which allows for muscle development and repair. However, research shows that excessive consumption of alcohol does two things that are counter-productive for physically active people. First, alcohol consumption increases cortisol release which is a catabolic hormone that breaks down protein and is associated with poor sleep quality. Second, it decreases the release of growth hormones at night. So without the release of growth hormones, our bodies are unable to rebuild the muscle fibers that were broken down by either exercise or other strenuous activities throughout the day. This makes the exercise or physical activity detrimental rather than beneficial to our bodies.

Obviously the key question is “what does excessive mean?” According to a recent study showing a significant decrease strength recovery after excessive alcohol consumption, the amount was roughly 6 standard drinks for a 175 pound male. Interestingly enough, it also found that moderate post-workout drinking of up to two drinks for men and one for women had no more significant impact on strength recovery vs. not drinking at all. So obviously, the key here is moderation.

The bottom line is if you know you have plans that will include anything more than 2 drinks that day (e.g., going to a wedding or a gathering with friends), you would be better off to skip your workout that day (workout hard the day before or the day after, but not the day of). Likewise, if you know you will be engaging in strenuous activity or have a heavy workout planned for the day, you should avoid drinking or, at the very least, keep it to a minimum.