Many people associate a glass of wine with relaxation in the evening or think of it as a must on special occasions. But how does it affect you if you’re exercising and have certain body goals? Is it a disaster? Or it is OK now and then? Time to bust the myths around alcohol and exercise!

Alcohol calories and the thermogenic effect
You should take a closer look at the thermogenic effect, which is the amount of energy used to digest food, depending on whether it is protein, carbohydrate or fat. Proteins demand the most energy and fat the least. Alcohol comes under proteins, so if the calorie content in the alcohol is 7 calories/g, the true figure is 5.5 calories/g. The difference is therefore 20%. However, alcohol doesn’t fill you up as much as protein does. It’s also easier to drink calories than to chew them, which means it’s easy to over-consume alcohol. That is why many people end up at a kebab shop after a drinking session. And also, of course, because you tend to lose your common sense in relation to food when you are too intoxicated to make good choices. It’s like what you eat no longer matters. It is also said that it isn’t the alcohol itself that is the problem – it’s what you eat with it.

Alcohol and testosterone
How does alcohol affect the important muscle-building hormone testosterone? As women, we already have low levels of testosterone compared to men, so how does it affect us? Sure, alcohol reduces this level, but not to the extent some people may think. A three-week long study, which allowed men and women to consume 30–40 grams of alcohol per day, showed a 6.8% reduction of testosterone levels in the men and no reduction for the women. This is equivalent to three beers a day for three whole weeks – so the effect of a few beers once or twice a week would hardly be noticeable.

For alcohol to reduce testosterone levels significantly, you would need to drink a lot. 120 grams of alcohol, equivalent to ten (!) beers, reduces the levels by 23% for up to 16 hours after the intake. 

Alcohol and fat burning
Fat storing and fat burning are ongoing processes, and fatty acids constantly move in and out of the fat cells during the day. Both storage and burning are due to calorie intake and calorie usage, but as soon as you consume alcohol, your body prioritises burning just alcohol and not fat. The body regards alcohol as a poison and will therefore try to get rid of it as soon as possible. In other words, the fat will have to wait.

Alcohol and exercise – can you exercise while hungover?
In my world, EVERY session counts. Every session of exercise should be as efficient as possible – I should be able to get as much out of it as possible, and that includes today. I don’t exercise in order to exercise. If you have a large amount of alcohol in your body when you exercise, a large part of the positive hormonal response from the exercise will not be present. To be sure of achieving the best possible results from exercise, it is best to wait until most of the alcohol has left your system.

What does all this mean for you?

If you are going to a party on a certain day where there will be alcohol, focus on proteins as far as possible. Your carbohydrate intake should be low that day, maybe 50–70 g in total, depending on your weight.  Avoid beer but also drinks based on juice or fizzy soft drinks. Dry wines, gin, rum, tequila and vodka are very low in carbohydrates. Drink them as they are or mix with diet mixers.

Try to limit your alcohol intake to the odd occasion per month.

Women don’t tolerate alcohol as well as men. One reason for this is that the female body contains proportionally less water and more fat. Since alcohol is water-soluble, there is less liquid to dilute the alcohol with. If a normally built woman and a normally built man share a bottle of wine, they get the same concentration of alcohol in the blood if the woman drinks a third and the man the rest.

Test yourself to see if you are at risk!

  1. Do you drink alone?
  2. Do you comfort drink?
  3. Do you buy alcohol from different shops to avoid being recognised?
  4. Do you hide bottles?
  5. Do you indulge in the hair of the dog?
  6. Do you drink every day?
  7. Do you get memory blanks?
  8. Do you drink until you run out of alcohol?
  9. Do you buy more expensive brands than you can afford as a way of drinking less?
  10. Have you tried to stop drinking but been unsuccessful?
  11. Do you combine alcohol with tranquillisers?
  12. Do you keep up appearances, but drink at home before and after parties?

If you answer YES to a third of these questions, you ought to consider changing your alcohol habits.

Source: Martin Berkhan,