It turns out, as two recent studies reveal, that alcohol not only benefits your workout, but may actually cause you to work out in the first place.
Researchers at Penn State University gathered together a group of 150 men and women ages 18-75 and had them use an app on their smartphone to keep track of their daily drinking and exercising activities. Each member of the study had to fill out an extensive health questionnaire, and agree to use the app for at least twenty-one days.
What they found was very interesting: on the days people worked out, they drank more, and vice versa. This provided evidence that there is clearly motivation and influence between exercise and drinking. But combining this data with a second study is where the findings become very compelling.
This research, published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, notes that in rodents, both exercise and alcohol increased activity in the parts of the brain related to reward processing. But how the reward processing works is the key. The aspects of reward processing related to exercise differ from reward processing related to drinking, which helps explain why animals will avidly engage in both running and ethanol sipping–two distinct euphoric feelings result. But taken together, the resulting neurological high appears to be generally more pervasive and lasting than with either activity alone.
So basically, after a workout, while we’re on a high, we might seek to extend that high with a beer, which then just feeds into our motivation to feel both highs again, since doing both makes the high greater than just one alone.
It is also worth noting that the studies did not find that alcohol causes people to binge drink, or drink more than they should. It simply provides them with motivation for a glass or two. Additionally, some use exercise to burn the calories that come with drinking, meaning that consuming alcohol fuels exercising (and again, vice versa!).
So the next time you head to the gym and then have a craving for a glass of wine or beer, embrace it. It may be the subconscious force that motivates you to head to the gym again tomorrow.