Pick Your Poison – Alcohol, Fitness, and the Writer

Text Only Logo*Cough* Aside from what the title might suggest, this post isn’t intended to be a sermon against drinking or anything of the sort. Let’s say it straight: There’s nothing inherently bad, wrong, evil, wicked (hey look! a thesaurus!) about alcohol and drinking it. There is a long-standing cliché or tradition or whatever you want to call it that links writing with alcohol, almost as if it’s a necessary thing to truly unlock whatever creative genius resides within our cirrhotic souls. Personally, I don’t feel alcohol or alcoholism is more present in the writing field than any other—it has just been more romanticized there. That and have you seen how writers and people in publishing party at conventions or any other get-together? Holy geez…

Whatever your personal opinions or beliefs about alcohol, it’s not going to absent itself from the writing community anytime soon. I’m also willing to bet a good portion of those reading this enjoy the occasional or frequent adult beverage. I do. So how do we, as writers who also want to be healthy, enjoy a fine vintage or brew without letting our fitness suffer as a side-effect? Aside from the single word answer of “Moderation,” or the wise strategy of “Don’t chug half-a-dozen beers before doing sprint intervals,” there are some health factors to consider.

First, let’s look at how alcohol can affect your fitness:

  • Dehydration – Alcohol is a diuretic, causing you to urinate more and lose your body’s water stores. Since we’re 70% water in the first place, being properly hydrated is kinda important, especially if you’re trying to do any sort of physical activity. If you’re already dehydrated from drinking and then you start sweating out even more, that can be a nasty combo.
  • Weight Gain – All alcohol has calories (and no, adding rum to diet coke doesn’t make it healthier). Thing is, those calories are basically void of all nutrients, which means they’re doing nothing to contribute to your system. Adding empty calories on top of your normal diet means quickly putting yourself into a surplus which, over time, will pack on some padding…aka. the infamous beer gut. Beer is often 100+ calories per unit, wine 150+ per unit, and liquor 100+ per unit.
  • Energy Production & Fat Storage – When alcohol metabolizes, it breaks down into acetate, a toxin that your body prioritizes as an energy source in order to burn it out of your system. This means you stop any fat-burning process until the alcohol “fuel” is gone (it takes 1 hour to metabolize 1 unit of alcohol). During that time, any other calories you take in will primarily go unused and be stored as fat.
  • Insulin Stimulation – Drinking alcohol triggers insulin production, which has been linked to increasing your body’s fat storage processes. So whatever calories you take in while drinking are even likelier to be converted to fat rather than used as energy or to recover from exercise.

That’s not to mention that if one drinks too much, it impairs decision-making. While you might not think it wise to eat an entire pint of ice cream slathered on top of a five meat pizza while sober, when drunk, that could be highly appetizing! At the same time, moderate alcohol intake has been linked to lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and gallstones.

Now let’s see what steps we can take to blunt the negative effects of drinking and keep our fitness goals on track even after a night or weekend of tippling:

  • Moderation. Again, self-explanatory. If this is an issue for you, that’s a whole other discussion to be had.
  • Timing – Try to have drinks on rest days rather than workout days. Alcohol can impair the fat-burning effects of a workout, negate any calories lost, and also stunt the recovery process. Of course, if you’re on a rest day and know you have an early workout planned the next morning, try to keep that in mind so you aren’t heading to the gym with a hangover (although getting yourself to exercise is a magnificent way to get back to feeling normal, especially if you rehydrate and avoid any too-intense activity).
  • Buffers – There’s a reason people reach for greasy foods in conjunction with a cocktail. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having food in your system will slow the alcohol absorption rate so the effects don’t hit you as quickly.
  • Calorie Reduction – Keep an eye on how much you’re eating overall and be aware of how many calories you’re ingesting in liquid form. If you eat less throughout the day before the party gets going, then you have a little more space to enjoy a couple drinks without bumping yourself over your daily limit.
  • Hydrate – The general rule here is to have 8oz of water in between every alcoholic drink you imbibe. This not only slows down your intake, but also will help counteract alcohol’s diuretic effect.
  • Alcohol Types – Various drinks have different alcohol levels which can hit your system harder. Wine is usually 8-14% alcohol, beer 4-6%, and then 40-100 proof liquor being 20-50% or more. If you want to ease back on the impact without dropping drinking entirely, consider switching up your beverage of choice to something lower on the scale.

It all boils down to balance. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going out with friends for a few beers or hanging with other authors at the con bar. Those can be incredibly fun times! You can continue to make fitness gains and maintain your health without eliminating drinking from your lifestyle—but it does require a level of personal awareness and responsibility.

What’s your approach to drinking? Do you have a favorite beverage? Have you ever cut out drinking entirely to see what sort of impact it made on your fitness and health?