health and wellness

Can Alcohol Affect Fitness Levels?

Published on December 31, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

We are living in the age of physical fitness. Modern science and wellness trends have made staying fit and taking care of your body more popular than ever, and we are now well equipped with information and resources to do so.  However, we are also living in a culture where alcohol use is the norm, and it seems most of us are expected to take care of our bodies while poisoning ourselves at the same time. Alcohol interferes with physical fitness in a variety of ways. Abusing alcohol or developing an alcohol use disorder is especially detrimental to health and fitness, but even moderate alcohol use can be a hinderance when trying to stay fit.  Improving fitness levels through regular exercise, however, can be a great way to reduce cravings and support mental wellness when in recovery from addiction.  

Alcohol and Fatigue

Staying fit requires consistent energy.  Anyone who has ever started a workout regimen know is that it can be difficult in the initial days and weeks to stay motivated to workout, or to get up extra early every morning to go on a run or hit the gym.  Over time, however, regular exercise improves energy levels and working out begins to feel great. Alcohol use can get in the way of your body’s ability to produce energy for workouts in several ways. Drinking in the evenings may help you to fall asleep, but alcohol use actually disrupts sleep quality so that your body and mind do not feel rested the next day.  Additionally, alcohol use increases the body’s level of epinephrine, a stress hormone that acts as a stimulant, and may cause you to wake repeatedly through the night. Working out while feeling sleep deprived can feel impossible, and may lead to skipping the gym entirely.

Alcohol use may also lead to extreme fatigue by causing dehydration.  Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it depletes your body of water by affecting kidney function.  Good hydration is essential for physical exercise to maintain blood flow and carry oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.  Staying hydrated while working out can be a challenge even without alcohol use due to water loss after sweating. Combining alcohol use and exercise will not only affect your workout performance, but can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration and the possibility of overheating.

Alcohol and Weight Loss

While weight loss isn’t always the primary goal for physical exercise, maintaining a healthy weight can improve health, increase fitness levels, and promote energy throughout the day. Unfortunately, alcohol is a major culprit in unhealthy weight gain, and drinking while trying to lose weight is considered seriously counterintuitive.  Alcohol is high is sugar and empty calories, and contributes to unhealthy belly fat that may increase the risk of several diseases. Drinking beer or wine, or mixing hard alcohol with juice or soda is especially high in sugar, and can stop the fat burning process after a gym session. Additionally, alcohol use decreases muscle building and recovery during and after workouts by disrupting the body’s ability to synthesize proteins.  

Alcohol use may also contribute to weight gain in other ways.  Abusing alcohol can slow down the metabolism and effect motivation to workout or eat healthy.  Overeating while drunk or to remedy a hangover is common in binge drinkers especially, all of which can add to a surplus calorie intake.  Also, abusing alcohol can have a seriously detrimental effect on mental health, making sticking to a workout routine or desiring to stay fit at all especially difficult.  Unfortunately, not working out only further exacerbates mental health issues.

Fitness in Recovery

The good news is that exercise and addiction recovery go hand and hand.  For those with alcohol use disorder, quitting drinking will have a powerful impact on their sports and fitness performance, and working out can help reduce cravings and encourage a healthy lifestyle in recovery from addiction.  Exercise is a natural and healthy way to promote the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are artificially stimulated by alcohol, and quitting alcohol can leave the brain feeling temporarily depleted while trying to find balance.  Exercise is one of the best ways to boost these levels, helping to regulate mood and fight symptoms of depression and anxiety.

For first responders, staying fit and active is a part of the job.  Alcohol dependency can get in the way of performing to your fullest potential, as well as negatively affect every other aspect of your life.  Seeking professional treatment for addiction is the best way to prioritize your health and mental wellness.

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses.  We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.  By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.