When choosing alcohol after exercise, it’s important to use moderation, which in dietary terms includes one drink per day for females, and two drinks per day for males. So what counts as one drink? A 12-oz beer (at about 5% alcohol by volume, or ABV), 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor (80 proof).
One thing to consider is that alcohol may interfere with adequate nutrient intake and absorption. For example, beer contains some carbohydrates (about 11g per 12 oz) and small amounts of sodium and potassium, but drinking alcohol can increase urine output—or has a diuretic effect—which inhibits the amount of nutrients your body can absorb and encourages excretion of stored minerals like calcium and magnesium.
If you do indulge, go for a lower ABV percentage (less than 4%), which may not affect your recovery as much, since the higher the alcohol percentage, the greater the negative effects it can have on performance and recovery. Also, consuming alcohol with food can help decrease feeling drunk given that food will slow the absorption of alcohol. (Alcohol is absorbed more slowly by the stomach and more rapidly by the small intestines.)
There are studies that suggest that alcohol can impair the recovery process, decrease glycogen resynthesis in the absence of carbohydrates (so consumed without food), delay rehydration, and decrease muscle protein synthesis. Excessive alcohol can also interrupt normal sleep patterns, contribute to weight gain, and lead to increased injury risk.
Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., is an assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.