How’s your relationship with alcohol? Do you drink at all? If you do, are you an infrequent or light drinker, or do you drink regularly or heavily? Have you ever considered how your drinking relates to your fitness, and your overall health?
You may believe that light drinkers are generally fitter than heavy drinkers. However, a recent study suggests that the reverse is true: if you take a highly fit person (as measured by VO2 max), they’re more than twice as likely to be a moderate or heavy drinker than a less fit person.
Whilst this association may be surprising, it brings the question of what causes what? Does consuming more alcohol somehow make you more likely to exercise to improve your fitness, or does being fit drive you to drink more alcohol?
On the exercise drives alcohol side of the argument, we can speculate that the concept of “reward drinking” may be at play: you’ve been to the gym, or done a 5k run, so you deserve that beer (or two) when you get home. On the other hand, if it’s alcohol that drives exercise, then perhaps it’s feeling the obligation to workout to make up for last night’s pub indulgence that’s behind the association. Another explanation, and the one that I favour, is the “work hard play hard” factor. Personalities that are driven to exercise a lot, sometimes to extremes, may also be driven to party-hard and overindulge in alcohol.
Whatever the linkage mechanism, it’s certainly food (or beverage) for thought. But it doesn’t erase the negative health impacts that are associated with moderate or heavy drinking. Just in terms of adding “empty’ calories, the numbers can stack up fast: a half bottle of wine is 300 calories. Add two pints of beer, and you’re well on the way to adding 800 calories to your daily total. And then, the next morning, you may indulge in a sausage and egg McMuffin meal – 520 calories.
Alcohol also interferes with your metabolism, causing conditions such as fatty liver and impacting the body’s ability to take in nutrients. Crucially it also interferes with your sleep, leaving you more likely to eat more and exercise less.
So can you drink and be fit? Well, yes, the study suggests you can, and many people are. But is moderate to heavy drink good for you? Probably not. As with most things health and fitness related, the best advice is moderation. Cheers.