Sports and alcohol are a famous pair. Whether you’re a fan or an athlete, it’s common to follow up a great game with a drink or two. But does that drink affect your recovery after your workout? Researchers at California Polytechnic State University think that it might.
Rafael Jimenez, Amy Engel and a team of scientists studied this question by exercising rats for 60–90 minutes, then giving some of them ethanol, which is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It was a heavy dose of alcohol, Jimenez says, noting that in other studies the dose produced a blood alcohol content of about 0.27 percent. (That’s equivalent to a 140-lb. man having about 9–10 drinks.) Three hours after the rats’ intoxication, the researchers measured the expression of recovery proteins in the rats’ muscles.
In particular, they measured the expression of PGC-1α, an important gene involved with the cell’s recovery response to exercise. PGC-1α is a major player in the creation of new mitochondria—the “engines” that provide cells with energy.
The expression of PGC-1α in muscle cells increased in all the rats after exercise. However, this increase was blunted in the rats that received ethanol. These findings are preliminary, but they suggest that drinking after exercise impairs recovery by keeping the cells from making more mitochondria. So next time you have a great workout, celebrate with a virgin margarita instead of an alcoholic drink to optimize recovery.
Emily Johnson, PhD, is an APS member and a former volunteer editor for the I Spy Physiology blog.