The Great Old Booze Debate Continues

Jul 19, 2021

 by Mitch Potterf

Alcoholism = bad.

One glass of wine a night = OK, even helpful?

That tends to be the general thinking about booze: Getting hammered all the nights of the week is bad, bad, bad for your liver, for cognitive function, for your heart, for performance at the gym, and on and on. Not to mention the headache the next morning. Meanwhile, many studies have shown that one glass of wine a night can actually be beneficial to your health: Even the Mayo Clinic says a glass of wine a day can have heart health benefits (

For years, many of us have adopted the moderation approach when it comes to alcohol, assuming that as long as we don’t become full-blown alcoholics, drinking with friends brings us happiness—IT REALLY DOES, and that has to count for something—and in a perfect world, if the studies are correct, our hearts might even become stronger from the antioxidants in wine. 

But perhaps we have been living in a fantasy land, where we hoped this was the case and blindly believed it because we like alcohol.

Well, your bubble is about to burst: A new study says no amount of alcohol is safe for your health. The study, published in The Lancet in August (, looked at alcohol consumption in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016 and discovered that alcohol is the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 (accounting for one in 10 deaths). Alcohol was also found to be associated with 2.8 million deaths a year, according to the study. The conclusion: The only safe amount of booze is zero drops.

Whether you believe this study, or other studies that say some booze is good for your health, let’s take a moment to look at what happens in your body when you drink booze—in the context of how it might affect your performance at the gym—and then you can decide for yourself what amount of alcohol you think is helping your life.

Alcohol and Training:

Booze in the blood: 

Basically, alcohol kills your oxygen-carrying red blood cells (aka hemoglobin), which essentially means that you become less efficient at carrying oxygen to your cells. And the more you drink, the worse it gets, to the point that you can wind up with anaemia. Not only can you NOT donate blood if you’re anaemic, but it can lead to a host of other health concerns, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness—all because you’re not effectively taking up oxygen. Can’t imagine this condition would help you during a conditioning workout, or even a heavy set of back squats.

A Daiquiri and Dehydration: 

You have probably heard alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it can lead to dehydration because your kidneys start producing more urine. Being properly hydrated helps maintain proper oxygen circulation in your body, which is critical for performance. And if you workout after drinking, it can dehydrate you even more as you can add sweat on top of more pee, leaving your body depleted of H2O.

Rum and Eggnog and Energy: 

In short, booze interferes with the way your body makes energy. When you metabolize alcohol (meaning when you break it down in your body), it stops your liver from producing as much glucose as it should, so you end up with low blood sugar levels. Working out requires high levels of glucose; without enough glucose, performance suffers because your body is then forced to use fat instead of glucose as energy, meaning you’ll feel more sluggish and won’t be able to workout at the intensity you otherwise would be able to. 

A Radler and Recovery: 

Booze is bad for recovery. Period. This is especially true after an injury because alcohol causes your blood vessels to open up more than usual, and this increased blood flow can cause increased swelling or bleeding if you are injured.

Mohito and Muscle: 

As a longer term affect, drinking can affect your ability to gain muscle mass. Essentially, it disrupts your sleep patterns and growth hormones, which are important for muscle growth. It can also reduce testosterone levels, another important hormone that helps you build muscle. Heavy drinking can even poison muscle fibres, so much so that they stop adapting to training the way they should.

Heineken and the Heart: 

Heavy drinking can lead to unusual heart rhythms. And working out only increases the danger of having an irregular heartbeat. 

Finally thought: If you have a glass of wine twice a week and feel great at the gym, by all means, keep on it. But if your performance doesn’t seem to be improving as much as you expect it should, and you find yourself boozing every other night, it might be worth considering taking a month off drinking and see what happens to your performance…