Friday, July 25, 2008

Alcohol and Exercise – A Good or Bad Combination?

Have you ever wondered whether having a few drinks after exercise is a problem? Sometimes after a good workout you might find yourself in a situation where you want to drink an alcoholic beverage. Read on.

This is particularly true if you stop at your health club after work and then go to dinner. You might want a glass of wine or beer with dinner, or you may be planning to party with friends. Should you change your plans just because of the aerobics class you just attended?

In fact, no, you don't need to change your plans. You just need to use a little common sense. It is well known that your body needs to re-hydrate after exercise. By drinking water, a sports beverage or eating water-laden food, you can replace some or all of the water lost during exercise. Note that it usually takes a couple of hours for the water and electrolytes you consume to work their way into your tissues. Drinking alcoholic beverages is known to have a dehydrating effect on your body. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing you to lose water, so this is where the quandary resides - should you or should you not drink alcohol after exercise? Will the hydration immediately after the workout suffice to counteract the dehydrating effects of the social drink afterwards?

Scientific studies have examined this concern over the process of re-hydration of your body tissues. A study by Shirreffs and Maughan, published in 1997, helps to answer these questions:

Drinks containing different amounts of alcohol were given to healthy individuals after exercise and the effect on re-hydration was studied. The subjects all did the same amount of exercise and were given the same number of beverage. However, different groups were given beverages containing different amounts of alcohol. The scientists studied both the amount of urine produced by the subjects and also determined their fluid balance before and during the process of re-hydration.

It was found that low amounts of alcohol had no effect on the body's ability to re-hydrate. Higher amounts of alcohol, however, did result in slightly slower than normal re-hydration. Measurement of urine output showed that subjects consuming no alcohol and those consuming small amounts of alcohol produced the same amounts of urine over a period of 6 hours of re-hydration. Those consuming higher levels of alcohol produced slightly more urine during this time. Measurement of fluid balance showed that all subjects achieved re-hydration after 6 hours although those who had consumed the higher level of alcohol reached this level a little more slowly.

These scientists believe that the fact that your body is somewhat dehydrated after exercise actually blunts the dehydrating or diuretic effects of alcohol. This is clear because the urine output of subjects consuming low levels of alcohol was essentially the same as the urine output of those who had consumed no alcohol. Only the higher levels of alcohol caused an increase in urine. However, even this increase in urine does not have any significant effect on re-hydration of the body.

What does this mean to your plans for the evening? It means, simply, that moderation is the best approach. Any time you exercise you should drink fluids for a few hours afterwards. You should always consume more water than the amount that you have lost through sweat. After a heavy work-out, a couple of beers or a glass of wine are likely to have no effect on your body' ability to restore normal water balance. Even if you find yourself drinking more than that, there still is no serious effect to worry about; your body will simply take longer to re-hydrate. You may be able to help the process by increasing your intake of water and food along with those few extra drinks. If you give your body plenty of water and food to work with, it has an amazing ability to keep its balance.

Much has been written about the potential beneficial effects of alcohol. Many articles have been written showing evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol, particularly in the form of wine, can reduce the risk of stroke. Other recent studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol can cause elevations in the levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood. This is the "good" form of cholesterol and therefore a beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption. In fact, exercise and moderate levels of alcohol can work together to benefit your overall health. It should be kept in mind, however, that alcohol might cause an increase in blood pressure, particularly in men.

Obviously, the relationship between exercise, consumption of alcohol and your health is very complicated and not completely clear. The best thing to keep in mind is that if you choose to consume alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation. Over-indulgence is never a good thing; but in limited quantities, alcoholic beverages are not likely to present a risk to healthy individuals when combined with exercise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I get home from work I hate having to decide between exercise or a drink--because it is so easy to mix a drink and pass on the rest. I've been looking for a little justification to do both and not feel like I am wasting my effort.