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How Alcohol Messes with Your Fitness Goals

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Hit the gym, hit the bottle? On the days you workout, you're more likely to drink, suggests recent research in the journal Health Psychology.

In the study, researchers asked 150 adults to record their physical activity and alcohol consumption on their smartphones. They found that on days the participants exercised, they tended to drink more alcohol too.

How come? Researchers aren’t 100 percent certain as to why the correlation exists, but people might unconsciously use booze to reward themselves for exercising (you think: “But I went that extra mile, so I can have that extra drink!”), theorizes study author David E. Conroy, Ph.D. It also could be that as women, we tend to work out with friends, and then continue socializing over drinks post-spin session. Another possibility: You have a finite amount of willpower to not overdo it—and you may use that all up at the gym, which makes it difficult to resist temptation later, notes Conroy.

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Here’s the thing: Moderate alcohol consumption—no more than one drink a day, according to the U.S.D.A. Dietary Guidelines for Americans—may have some health benefits, it’s true. But “work hard, play harder” can seriously backfire. Here, four ways throwing back cocktails can throw your fitness goals off track.

Cue Cramping
“Alcohol acts as a diuretic,” explains Sara Haas, R.D.N. L.D.N, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. All those extra trips to the ladies’ room can lead to dehydration, which can trigger painful muscle cramping that does a number on your performance.

Sleep Quality Suffers
A few glasses of wine before bed may help you drift off faster—but the zzz’s you log won’t be deeper, says Haas. “Alcohol can prevent restorative deep REM sleep, which is needed to feel rested.” Lack of sleep can impair muscle recovery, and even if you manage to drag yourself to the gym after a night of tossing and turning, your workout will suffer.

The Scale Could Tip
While there’s room in an otherwise balanced, healthy diet for a drink now and again, at the end of the day, alcohol translates into unnecessary, un-nutritious calories, says Haas. Add in the junk-food munchies you may down after a night of drinking, and you’ve got a surefire recipe for adding pounds.

Your Body Is Left Hungry
“When consumed excessively, alcohol can have detrimental effects on how your body uses, stores, and excretes nutrients,” says Haas. It can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients, she says, including B vitamins (which play a huge role in metabolism), vitamin A (a powerful antioxidant that helps the body recover from exercise), and vitamin C (which assists with bone growth and vision).