Is It Safe to Exercise After Drinking Alcohol?

by Ahmed Zayed, MD on December 25, 2019
Last updated on May 23, 2021

Perhaps, one way to bond with friends is to drink beer with them. That is why even if you are supposed to head on the gym, you go to bars to meet them. In fact, a study has shown that physical activity and alcohol consumption are positively correlated. People who are drinkers exercise more compared to abstainers (1).

group doing zumba

It’s not surprising that people who are physically active also drink alcohol. Right now, you may be wondering whether or not it is safe to workout after drinking alcohol.  Before we answer that, let us learn what happens to your body when you drink alcohol:

From the moment you take your first sip, alcohol has already an impact on your body. Do you know that even a glass a day can have detrimental effects on your entire well-being? And if you continuously drink more than one glass of beer, there may be some cumulative effects (2).

Digestive and endocrine glands

The pancreas is responsible for releasing digestive enzymes into your small intestine. These enzymes aid in the digestion of the food you eat. But if you drink too much alcohol, your pancreas will abnormally produce digestive enzymes before they are released into the small intestine.

The activation of these enzymes can actually lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis occurs when there is an inflammation of the pancreas (3).   Pancreatitis may be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening if not treated properly. It can also lead to gland bleeding, infection, serious tissue damage, and cyst formation. It can also affect your lungs, kidneys, and heart.

On the other hand, chronic pancreatitis usually occurs when you are a heavy alcohol drinker. Although symptoms are not manifested for many years, these may suddenly develop into severe pancreatitis.

Inflammatory damage

Your liver is a very crucial organ that aids in the breaking down and the removing of harmful substances from your body. Alcohol is actually a harmful substance that interferes with the vital function of the liver. It also exposes you to a higher risk of liver disease and chronic liver inflammation.

Inflammation causes the scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. And these scars are responsible for damaging your liver. If your liver is damaged, it cannot function properly, which means that the toxic from your body cannot be removed.

Sugar levels

Your response to alcohol mainly depends on your entire well-being. If you have blood sugar problems, then drinking alcohol might pose you to serious risk as it can interfere with your blood sugar and the hormones responsible for it to become healthy.

Your pancreas is very helpful in regulating the use of your body’s insulin. If your liver and pancreas don’t work properly, you will most likely experience hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Aside from that, your body will stop producing enough insulin to use sugar. If that happens, then you will experience hyperglycemia or too much sugar.

Indeed, consuming an excessive amount of alcohol can decrease the effectiveness of your insulin. People with liver disease due to alcohol usually have either diabetes or glucose intolerance.


nervous system

You may wonder why you have slurred speech once you drink too much alcohol. Well, alcohol impacts your central nervous system. It can decrease communication between your body and your brain. This is probably the reason why you find it hard to coordinate as well as to balance properly (4).

Here what happens to your body when you exercise after drinking alcohol:

Alcohol affects how your brain works

As mentioned earlier, it takes only one sip of beer for your body to be affected. Usually, how you balance, decide, and react to a certain situation depends upon your tolerance and genetics.

Alcohol targets the major parts of your brain- the reward center, the cerebellum, the frontal lobe, and the amygdala. The reward center of your brain is responsible for controlling your feelings of euphoria. Probably, that’s the reason why you feel so good.

The cerebellum is responsible for controlling motor coordination. It means that your movement, balance, and reaction time are controlled by this part of your brain. The frontal lobe can control your impulse, decision, and behavior. Lastly, the amygdala is responsible for making you feel afraid or anxious (5).

If you are not aware of your limits, such as when you lift heavy weights, you will most likely be prone to injury. If you lose control of your balance, such as when your motor coordination is affected, you will most likely be exposed to accidents which will not just hurt you but also your teammate.

Alcohol affects your endurance and muscle strength

Do you know that you will experience loss of endurance and muscle strength if you have about 8 percent of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in your body? If that happens, you will most likely experience dizziness or may be lightheadedness while you are exercising.

That can be about 2 to 3 drinks of beer if you weigh 140 pounds or about 4 to 5 drinks of beer if you weigh 160 pounds. On the other hand, in a real-world setting, you will most likely experience dizziness or lightheadedness after a drink or two if you move in or out of the gym.

Alcohol will probably affect your balance, concentration, and technical ability

You may not feel the difference if you are merely performing moderate intensity exercises like jogging, biking, or bicep curls. But if you have an intense workout, such as if it is your heavy lifting day or your CrossFit class or maybe you need to do something which requires your utmost effort, you will certainly feel what alcohol can do in your body.

Your balance, concentration, and technical ability will most likely be affected, especially if you already had a few drinks. Don’t ever dare to engage in exercises, which requires a lot of balance, concentration, or judgment, such as yoga, running, biking, or heavy lifting (7).

Alcohol affects your heart rate

Your heart rate increases as you work out. The heart then pumps blood into your muscles to get the right amount of oxygen and nutrients your body needs (8). Aside from that, glucose is burned for you to be able to have sufficient energy for your daily activities.

If you drink, the blood that is supposed to go to your muscles is stolen after it dilates. Aside from glucose, alcohol also serves as fuel for energy. But it affects how your body works efficiently as the use of glucose for energy is impaired throughout your workout. You will probably notice the changes in your body as you perform workouts requiring maximum effort.

Alcohol will make you become dehydrated

Because alcohol is a diuretic, you will most likely urinate more often. If that is the case, then you will lose too much fluid. And if that happens, you will eventually suffer from dehydration.

If you are going to exercise, you will sweat, and that will also result in losing more fluids. The additional loss of fluids can aggravate dehydration that you are already experiencing. In fact, a study shows that post-exercise beverages containing around 4 percent of alcohol may exacerbate the dehydration by causing you to urinate more (9).

Alcohol affects energy production

Glucose is a very crucial source of energy. It plays a huge role in exercise endurance. A study has shown that drinking alcohol can reduce the use of amino acids and glucose by skeletal muscles and affect metabolism during physical activities.

On the other hand, those who drink after exercise are shown to have lower protein synthesis rates compared to those who don’t. Protein synthesis is responsible for increasing muscle size as well as for helping repair your muscles. This will probably affect your strength as well as your stamina (10).

Alcohol affects your muscle buildup as well as recovery after exercise

If you undergo weightlifting, training, or other physical activities while drinking alcohol, the psychological benefits of the former may be wiped out. Since your body needs protein synthesis for muscle build up, alcohol will most likely hinder this process, which can affect the potential of your muscles to grow (11).

Protein synthesis is impaired if you drink too much alcohol. It also inhibits the production of the growth hormones and testosterone. This affects how your muscles grow as well as how it recovers. That is the reason why if you drink before or even after a strenuous workout, the ability of your body to grow or repair muscles is affected.

Alcohol can’t get rid of your stress

So if you are thinking that a glass of beer can relieve you from stress, you are certainly wrong. Indeed, you can see the temporary benefits of beer when it comes to stress relief, but it is immediately offset by its effects on your brain.

Drinking excessive alcohol can actually increase your feeling of anxiety. You are actually exposing yourself with greater harm because alcohol cannot ease anxiety. If you start drinking beer, your body becomes tolerant with the de-stressing effects of alcohol. This will even make it hard for you to cope with stress and anxiety.

Over time, drinking too much alcohol can lead to memory loss, blackouts, and even brain damage. Aside from that, it exposes you to various health issues such as liver damage. These health issues can even aggravate your anxiety (12). While exercise can help you prevent various diseases, alcohol functions otherwise. So if you want to get the utmost benefits from exercise, make sure not to drink too much alcohol.

Alcohol is absorbed by your body

Just like water, alcohol goes to your stomach as you drink it and is absorbed by your small intestine. Alcohol goes wherever water goes. It means that it goes everywhere, including your brain.

The rate of digesting alcohol really depends upon what else your stomach has. So if you have an empty stomach, you will probably feel the effects of alcohol within just an hour. If you want to slow down the absorption of alcohol by your small intestine, make sure that your stomach has something else to digest.

If you are working out, you can eat something light while drinking so that the absorption of alcohol will slow down. Make sure you give enough time for your body to metabolize the alcohol before you engage in physical activities. Perhaps, you can exercise after an hour if you have taken one drink or may be at least two hours if you have taken two drinks. But if you drink a lot of alcohol, you can just skip exercise for a while.


If you drink a lot of beer before you go to the gym, you are certainly not helping yourself. But if you drink moderately, such as when you drink a glass or two, it will not really hurt you. Remember that each one of us has a different threshold. It really depends upon our alcohol tolerance as well as our genetics.

Just make sure that you can manage the exercise that you are performing in order to avoid danger. If you are in doubt whether or not it is safe to exercise after drinking alcohol, it is always a good idea to skip your workout for a while and do it the next day.

Indeed, exercise is always good for your body. But there may be times when it can be dangerous for you to perform it, especially after drinking alcohol. You already know what alcohol can do to your body, so it is your responsibility to decide whether or not you drink one.


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