At one point, if someone was working on getting stronger, leaning out, or losing weight, alcohol consumption was a no-no. Amongst those focused on fitness, alcohol served as nothing but empty calories, and its consumption was thought to sabotage one’s health goals.
Aside from empty calories, alcohol consumption also contributes to belly fat because of its simple sugars makeup, affects digestion in an unhealthy way, and is used by the body as a primary source of fuel before anything else, according to Healthline’s reporting. In short, alcohol works against good health and proper fitness so naturally, those in recovery were able to find refuge in spaces dedicated to a healthy lifestyle.
But in recent years, it seems a shift from an alcohol-free fitness industry to a pro-alcohol message is underway, and just like the westernized yoga industry, fitness is traipsing down a slippery slope.
Like many industries, women are increasingly present in the realm of fitness. More women are finding value in strength training, and cardio has long been a go-to for stress relief and heart health. In organized races, for example, women made up 57% of participants in 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal’s reporting, and the number continues to increase. The running sector of the fitness industry is one of many that is seeing a more favorable attitude in alcohol consumption. In fact, rather than bananas and simple carbs, some organized marathons are handing out beers to finishers.
Given that more and more women are entering the running sector of the fitness industry, this influx of brands marketing directly to them puts women in a precarious position…
For the pro-alcohol website, The Alcohol Professor, writer Phil Galewitz recounts receiving a beer called 26.2 Brew after a short run around the National Mall in Washington D.C. In his article, he goes on to mention six other breweries around the country that are capitalizing on the running industry and marketing beer directly to runners.
Given that more and more women are entering the running sector of the fitness industry, this influx of brands marketing directly to them puts women in a precarious position, especially if she is already dealing with substance use disorder or is questioning her alcohol consumption.
So why the shift from no-alcohol to pro-alcohol? According to the alcohol trade publication, The Drinks Business, alcohol consumption has fallen two years in a row, and this trend is thought to continue as Millennials and Generation Z continue to drink less than their predecessors. As a result, alcohol companies are scrambling to make up the difference by expanding their horizons. Just as alcohol companies found a niche marketing directly to women, and more specifically to moms, the fitness industry looks like a shiny new frontier to conquer (colonizing pun intended).
We’re not the only ones who read right through the beer goggles to see the truth of this dangerous pivot, though. Last summer, Eater reported that alcohol companies are marketing their products as an important part of the wellness lifestyle. One brand, Sufferfest, even goes so far as to state in their marketing materials that one of their new beers known as Beermile is an, “an important tool in workout recovery.” The problem, Eater writer Jaya Saxena reports, is that “positioning alcohol as a tool to build a better, cleaner body is just the flip side of positioning it as a cool potion necessary for any adult party — either narrative makes it harder to have a healthy relationship with it.”
And for those who know they do not have a healthy relationship with alcohol or are questioning their alcohol consumption, companies who deliberately market a harmful substance as an addition to a healthy lifestyle could cause irreparable harm, all in the name of profit.
What is clear, though, is that alcohol companies are infiltrating the fitness industry in an intentional way.
Retail companies are also capitalizing on the latest fitness and alcohol trend. Retailer Activate Apparel, for instance, sells shirts that don sayings like, “Whine Now, Wine Later” with a graphic of a barbell in the middle. And let’s not forget about the “Will Run for Wine” shirts likely popping up in an ad while you scroll through Facebook.
Does the fitness industry have an alcohol problem? The answer is still a little murky. What is clear, though, is that alcohol companies are infiltrating the fitness industry in an intentional way.
This is especially dangerous for those with alcohol use disorders because working out and eating healthy, according to Recovery Worldwide, “is one of the most effective ways to combat alcoholism and counteract the many negative health effects that it causes.” In essence, the gym, fitness groups, running groups, etc., act as an oasis for those in recovery.
Alcohol sales might be down, and current generations might be drinking less, but the alcohol industry is pervasive and for many, talking about recovery and living a sober life is still a little scary. The stigma surrounding substance use disorders prevails. There are few places sober or sober curious people can go without being bombarded by alcohol, but most thought the gym and the running trail would be alcohol-free.
But if the fitness industry continues to allow alcohol-centered companies and programming into the fold, gyms, marathons, and fitness groups will cease to offer a much needed safe haven in a world that already worships alcohol.