Alcohol In the Fitness Industry
This is a concept that I never really gave much thought to before I quit drinking – well, if I am being honest, it is a concept that I kind of liked before I quit drinking. You know, from the post-race beer to the “wine down Wednesday” spin class, alcohol has snuck its way into and is actively thriving in the fitness industry. And to be honest, the fitness industry has not only welcomed it with open arms but also profited from it.
The relationship between alcohol and exercise
Let’s just start with the science behind what happens to your body when you mix alcohol with exercise.
When you engage in high intensity activities such as running, cycling, jumping, dancing, etc., you are causing temporary muscle damage. If you are engaging in these activities long enough, then the fuel stored in our muscles used for energy (hey, what’s up, hello Glycogen) begins depleting. And, obviously, when you are engaging in high intensity activities, your body is losing an immense amount of fluid from sweating.
Okay, so let’s say you completed a 60-minute spin class, your body is currently in a state dysfunction and is trying vigorously to repair itself after the intense workout you just put it through.
So, what happens when you down that glass of wine or beer after class?
When you ingest alcohol after intense activities, you are essentially giving the middle finger to your body as it is in the process of trying to recover and rebuild from your workout. Your body is craving proper hydration, nutrition, and recovery, but instead you are feeding it a substance that is dehydrating and slows down the repair process of exercise-induced muscle damaged. It is a known fact that alcohol can slow down your metabolism, which means that you will burn fewer calories at rest and during activity. Further, it has been shown that alcohol weakens your muscles and could give you fatigue.
The fitness industry’s toxic relationship with alcohol
Exercise obviously has many physiological benefits, but more importantly, at least in my opinion, exercise has been proven to improve mental health. It helps to reduce anxiety, depression, a bad mood, and increase one’s general self-esteem. Exercise can also help with social withdrawal especially during a pandemic, as it has been proven to aid in social inclusion. Which is where I personally find group fitness classes to be so beneficial – it gives you a chance to be part of a community that you may not have otherwise found.
Now, let’s look at alcohol, which has been proven to be detrimental to one’s mental health. For God’s sake, alcohol is not called a depressant because it makes you happier. It is called a depressant because it alters and disrupts the chemical makeup in your brain in a manner that reduces stimulation. If you otherwise suffer from anxiety or depression, by consuming alcohol, you are essentially adding fuel to a fire that is already burning inside of you.
Let me just put it this way – there is an absurd amount of evidence that indicates that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
So, why the hell are we mixing the two?
You would think that it would be hard to disguise the substance that is responsible for 261 deaths per day and over 95,000 deaths every year in the United States as something that is “healthy,” but it has been done time and time again.
The alcohol industry saw an opportunity to pounce on a health-conscious, fitness-loving, and vulnerable population and overload them with bullshit claims, offering ‘low calorie’, ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, or whatever other misleading label they can throw on to one of the most dangerous drugs on the market to make it seem more appealing.
I get it, alcohol is an easy and effective marketing tactic for the fitness industry. I get it, it adds a little (toxic) sparkle when you throw in a post-workout mimosa. Have you ever thought about why a gym or wellness establishment feels the need to do this? Is it because they are worried they cannot get anyone to show up for their Sunday morning class, so by adding mimosas they will be able to hit that month’s numbers? Maybe they are going to pull in a few new clients using alcohol as a marketing tactic, but maybe they are also contributing to the destruction of our mental health or substance abuse issues.
A 2017 study published in Jama Psychiatry finds that “one in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder.” So, if 1 in 8 people have some sort of alcohol use disorder, that means in a class of 40, at least 5 people are fighting a substance abuse battle that you may have no idea about.
If a gym offered post-workout lines of cocaine, people would lose their shit. You might say, “well yes, because it is illegal.” Sure, alcohol is legal, but it is also arguably more addictive and actually kills more people. And, if we’re using legality as the line of demarcation, how would everyone feel about a gym offering post-workout cigarettes?
In my opinion, using alcohol as a marketing tactic in an industry that is literally centered around creating and sustaining a healthy lifestyle is extremely problematic, implying that one of the deadliest substances known to man could somehow be an addition to a healthy lifestyle. Ironically enough, I also find it kind of lazy and overdone. We’ve all seen the “planks then dranks” or “will run for wine” attire or the “wine down Wednesdays” classes – can we please leave this shit in 2020 and come up with more unique and less destructive marketing for the fitness community?
Speaking as someone who is in recovery
There are very few places that you can go anymore without being bombarded by alcohol or alcohol-related marketing. You cannot even drive to the store without seeing several billboards for various alcohol companies. People use working out and fitness as a means to escape from their alcohol use disorder, as Recovery Wordwide states, “it is one of the most effective ways to combat alcoholism and counteract the many negative health effects that it causes.” In other words, the gym, fitness groups, etc., should be a safe haven for those in recovery.
It is not really something you think about every day, but it is definitely something that needs to be discussed more.