A Sobering Reality: 6 Ways Alcohol Can Sabotage Your Fitness Goals

Getting serious about your health and fitness goals takes a lot of hard work, which may come in the form of admitting that you may be in a toxic relationship with alcohol. The attitude of ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’ may have been the nerve-calm pick-me-up you needed once upon a time, but indulging in morning mimosas, afternoon Aperol spritzes, and a night-time nightcap isn’t just bad for your health. It’s negatively impacting your progress in the gym.

If you need extra convincing, here are a handful of ways that drinking alcohol might be the sneaky reason you don’t see the progress you should be for the effort you’re putting in.

Empty calories

Calories matter whether you’re looking to put on muscle, lose weight, or fuel your body for exercise. At seven calories per gram, alcohol has nearly double the number of calories as carbohydrates and protein, averaging four calories per gram.

Calories are vital to sustaining life, feeling full and satisfied at meals, and providing us with the necessary macronutrients and micronutrients for the thousands of metabolic processes that happen in your body every day. The problem with calories from alcohol is that it doesn’t provide the same benefits as other caloric sources, such as glucose for energy, amino acids for muscle building, vitamins and minerals for health, or fiber for heart health. Instead, alcohol makes it harder to stay within an optimal caloric range for whatever your fitness goal may be.

Poor sleep

Alcohol acts as a depressant in the body, which is why drinking leads to fatigue, slurred speech, and incoordination. While some people may turn to a nightcap to help them fall asleep, drinking before bed can lead to lower quality sleep.

Now you may be wondering, why does your after-work cocktail result in tossing and turning? Alcohol can lessen the amount of time you spend in REM sleep each night, which is the deepest and most restful type of sleep. Going without good quality sleep may lead to you feeling burned out and unable to exercise at your usual intensity, which can set back your progress.

Shortness of breath

Chronic alcohol abuse leads to many adverse health effects such as liver damage and impaired vitamin and mineral absorption. Still, it may be less obvious how alcohol affects your respiratory system. Long-term alcohol dependence can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs, resulting in pneumonia, acute lung injury, and respiratory distress. If you are dependent on alcohol, currently undergoing the withdrawal process, exercising regularly, and experiencing symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, or shortness of breath, alcohol rehab may be necessary to restore lung health and stamina.

Without treatment, shortness of breath can cut your workouts short as you huff and puff your way back to your recliner. For those gym rats looking to adopt nightly workout rituals, it’s time to breathe new life into your exercise routine by consulting a medical professional. These withdrawal symptom experts can help you treat workout-souring shortness of breath at the source.


Just because alcohol is a liquid doesn’t mean it’s contributing to your hydration needs. It’s quite the opposite. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it negatively affects your body’s ability to absorb fluids. It also causes you to urinate more frequently, depleting your fluids more rapidly and putting you at greater risk of dehydration.

Exercising while dehydrated can leave you feeling tired earlier and even nauseous. Not to mention, these thirst-spiking bad habits significantly reduce how hard a workout you can complete. If you’ve set fitness goals but cannot give it your all during each training session, you probably won’t achieve the kind of progress you want.

Harder recovery

Proper recovery is a hugely important piece of the fitness progress puzzle. You may think that one or two drinks in the evening after you hit a hard workout earlier is harmless, but alcohol can impact your recovery processes for longer than you think. Drinking can hamper your body’s ability to recover from a workout by slowing down the processes needed to repair and synthesize new muscle tissue. Without adequate time to bounce back from training, you won’t build up your strength and may experience sore muscles for more extended periods, which can negatively affect your future workouts.

Depleted energy

The all-to-familiar hangover after a night of drinking is sure to sap your energy the next day. A pounding headache and upset stomach aren’t the only factors that will have you feeling worn out all day, though. Dehydration, poor sleep, and inadequate recovery are like compounded interest on an already costly experience. These can occur even with light drinking and can tank your energy on their own, hangover or not.

If you can’t let go of taking a drink for the sake of your fitness goals, it’s probably time to evaluate your dependence. Alcohol can destroy the progress you’re working so hard to obtain through impaired breathing, sleep, recovery, hydration, and energy. If you’re serious about achieving good health and habits, look into seeking help from rehabilitation professionals.

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