Drinking Alcohol with Pre-Workout: Why NOT to Do it

Published by Debbie Luna
Last Updated: October 18, 2021

Many people can dedicate a specific time to go to the gym, but some people do not have that luxury. Thus, they manage to squeeze in gym time whenever they have free time. Unfortunately, some people go to the gym after having an alcoholic beverage. Alcohol can indeed give some people a sense of energy, but there are physiological effects from alcohol that can interfere with the ingredients of a pre-workout and the physical exercises themselves.

It is not recommended to drink alcohol with a pre-workout or before a workout in general. Alcohol can interfere with the caffeine found in stimulant pre-workouts and lessen its impact. Furthermore, the effects of alcohol can be detrimental to the workout itself; Impaired cognitive function and reduced inhibitions can increase the risk of workout-related injuries. Alcohol also further complicates working out by reducing oxygen in the blood that the muscles require to effectively work.

What is a Pre-Workout?

pre workout and alcohol

A pre-workout supplement (also known as pre-workouts) is a product used by athletes, weightlifters, and various gymgoers that can enhance physical activity. Many supplements are described to be able to enhance physical activity but pre-workouts, just as their name suggests, are meant to be taken before a workout.

Pre-workouts are typically composed of multiple ingredients that have different effects on the body. Aside from having enough carbohydrates that would serve as a good amount of energy for the workout, pre-workouts would also contain other active ingredients.

Many pre-workouts would contain stimulants that would enhance metabolic rates. A popular stimulant used in pre-workouts is caffeine, and the addition of stimulants helps people feel more alert, awake, and energetic during the workout. Increasing metabolic rates with the use of stimulants can also make the body more efficient in processing and utilizing various materials needed for strenuous physical activity.

Pre-workouts can also contain some form of creatine. The most common form of creatine used in health supplements is creatine monohydrate, but there are other supplements that use other forms of creatine. Creatine is an excellent ingredient in pre-workouts because creatine can enhance physical activity by increasing the availability of energy for the body.

Specifically, the body uses creatine to quickly replenish its stores of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the molecule that the muscles use to perform work and exercise. While the body can naturally produce this molecule, the presence of creatine can help increase the ATP stores of the muscles so that it can perform significantly longer compared to the absence of creatine.

Aside from creatine and caffeine, pre-workouts can also contain a wide array of substances that the body can definitely benefit from during the workout such as amino acids for muscle repair and growth, salts as electrolytes, and even vitamins.

Pre-workouts already contain a multitude of ingredients that act on the body in a specific way. Meaning, consuming pre-workouts already affect the body’s physiology in some way. However, the ingredients and the effect of a pre-workout might be affected by the presence of other substances that could potentially act as an antagonist.

Anyone who has consumed an alcoholic beverage knows that alcohol also has some effect on the human body. Thus, it should be a cause of concern if the consumption of alcohol and a pre-workout should overlap since both substances have effects on the human body. Concerningly, the overlap of the two might cause inadvertent consequences.

Alcohol vs Caffeine

caffeine vs alcohol
Editorial Credit: chris77ho / Depositphotos.com

The purpose of a pre-workout supplement is to maximize the benefits that people confer from their workouts. It gives them a boost in energy and resources to be able to do more work, thus achieving more in their workouts. However, having alcohol in a person’s system when they take their pre-workout might cause some antagonistic effects. The alcohol might cause the potency and effectiveness of the pre-workout to diminish.

The first issue with drinking alcohol with a pre-workout is the antagonistic effects of alcohol and caffeine.

Aside from profoundly altering a person’s mood, behavior, and psychological functioning, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. People can indeed have a stimulatory effect at first, but then people can begin feeling its sedative effects as the alcohol concentration (blood alcohol concentration) in the body increases.

The mechanisms involved between alcohol and neurophysiology are still being investigated, but there are currently two mechanisms by which alcohol produces a sedative effect on the body.

Firstly, alcohol has been observed to increase GABA activity. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that primarily serves the body by reducing neuronal excitability. This neurotransmitter specifically helps the body calm down and relax. Alcohol has been found to be able to modulate GABA receptors and increase the activation of this neurotransmitter.

Another way alcohol can produce a sedative effect in the body is by the inhibition of glutamate receptors. When glutamate receptors are activated by glutamate, ion channels in the neurons allow the passage of cations to excite the neurons. When alcohol inhibits glutamate receptors, ion channels gated by these receptors then become less active which leads to insensitive neurons.

There are many reasons why people would want to achieve this sedative effect. However, that physiological effect is not conducive to physical activity. Furthermore, the sedative effect caused by alcohol is directly antagonistic to the stimulatory effect of caffeine.

Caffeine is an effective stimulant; It has been established that caffeine produces this stimulatory effect of feeling alert and awake by blocking adenosine – the chemical in the brain that makes people feel tired. Caffeine also compounds this effect by increasing adrenaline levels which gives the body additional energy.

Taken together, caffeine is an excellent ingredient for pre-workouts because it essentially prepares the body with an alert mindset and additional energy that can benefit the workout.

However, if alcohol and caffeine are mixed, then the person would experience conflicting results. Primarily depending on which substance is more concentrated in the body, the issue with mixing the two is that the person is not receiving the full benefits of the caffeine in their pre-workout. Not maximizing the effects of a pre-workout contradicts the concept of pre-workouts since pre-workouts aim to maximize workouts in the first place.

Furthermore, alcohol and caffeine can compete in terms of which substance the body should process first. Both alcohol and caffeine are not stored in the body – they are processed quickly in the liver and released through the urine. However, mixing alcohol and a pre-workout with caffeine can make the two compete.

Drinking a caffeinated pre-workout means that an individual wants the effect of the stimulant. However, the body will use up energy to process the alcohol first.

Bright Future Recovery details that alcohol is toxic inside the body and must be prioritized for metabolism. This is just another reason how alcohol dilutes the effectiveness of caffeine in a pre-workout.

Why Alcohol is Bad for Workouts

There are several reasons why alcohol should be avoided before workouts. The first reason is that intoxication can increase the risks of workout-related injuries.

Workouts in gyms can employ the use of heavy weights and machinery that require a keen mental state. The problem with alcohol is that cognitive function is affected, and alcohol has been known to reduce inhibition. This can lead to serious injuries when an individual keeps performing exercises that their bodies can no longer handle due to reduced inhibitions.

Even without the use of heavy weights and machinery, working out under the influence of alcohol can still be detrimental to the workout. Exercises require focus and full awareness to be performed in proper form. Exercises without mindfulness can lead to ineffective movements and potentially dangerous forms.

Another cause of concern about drinking alcohol before a workout is how alcohol affects oxygen. Alcohol has been found to reduce the oxygen in the blood. This is caused by how alcohol can alter the ability of blood cells to absorb oxygen. The phenomenon has already been attributed to numerous cases of people experiencing worsened sleep apnea and nocturnal hypoxemia in people who drink alcohol before going to sleep.

The issue of reduced blood oxygen is further compounded for workouts. Muscles require abundant amounts of oxygen to be able to perform an intense physical exercise for a long period of time which is why proper breathing is important in exercises. Once the muscles are depleted of oxygen, they turn to anaerobic respiration for energy production which produces lactic acid as a byproduct. Muscles working without sufficient oxygen is the reason people experience soreness and fatigue after working out.

Thus, lowering the blood oxygen with alcohol will further prevent the muscles to be able to work in an aerobic condition. Alcohol can lead to less physical activity and more muscle-related soreness after the workout.

References

1. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

4. http://torontek.com/

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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