Here's What Happens When You Exercise After Drinking


Do you gotta skip that happy hour or nah?

Ever been about to work out when you get a text from a friend asking you to meet them for happy hour? Brunch? Taco Tequila Tuesday?

Ever been about to work out when you get a text from a friend asking you to meet them for happy hour? Brunch? Taco Tequila Tuesday?

Yup, we've all been there. And you've probably wondered: can I maybe still work out after throwing back a few drinks?

To get to the bottom of this, we spoke with Aaron White, Ph.D, senior scientific advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and Thomas Allison, Ph.D, Director of the Integrated Stress Testing Center at the Minnesota Sports Cardiology Clinic.

OK, here's what you need to know:

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First, here’s what happens to your body when you drink alcohol:

First, here's what happens to your body when you drink alcohol:

“When you drink, the alcohol goes to your stomach and then is absorbed in the small intestine,” White tells BuzzFeed Health. “Alcohol is a small molecule that goes wherever the water goes in your body, which is everywhere, and that includes your brain.”

How quickly you digest the alcohol is going to depend on what else is in your stomach — so if you haven't had anything to eat recently and your stomach is empty the alcohol can be absorbed within just half an hour.

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Just one adult beverage can affect the way your brain works.

Just one adult beverage can affect the way your brain works.

White says it can take only one drink, depending on genetics and tolerance, for your balance, decision making, and reaction time to be affected.

That's because alcohol targets four major parts of the brain: the reward center — which controls feelings of euphoria, making you feel good; the cerebellum — which controls motor coordination: balance, movement, and reaction time; the frontal lobe — which controls behavior, decision making, and impulse control; and the amygdala — which is what makes you feel anxious or afraid when you're in danger.

So, for instance, you may not be as wary of your limits when lifting heavy weight, which could lead to injury. Or, because your motor coordination is off, you could be playing a sport and accidentally hurt yourself or a teammate because your balance is off.

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For most people, it’ll take a few drinks to really feel the effects while exercising.

For most people, it'll take a few drinks to really feel the effects while exercising.

Allison says that studies have shown it will take a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of around .08 for you to experience loss of muscle strength and endurance or feel lightheaded and dizzy while exercising. That can be around two to three drinks for a 140-pound person and four to five for a 160-pound person.

But, he points out, all those studies were done in a lab. In a real-world setting in which we're moving around outside and in a gym (with much more stimuli) it may take only a drink or two for someone to feel those effects. For instance, you'll probably feel that alcohol a lot more when you're running around outside in the sun than you would doing the same in an air-conditioned gym.

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