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This blog posting is about alcohol, and the effect alcohol has on the body in relation to your training and the results you might see. It will come as no surprise that alcohol is not going to be beneficial. Does this mean I’m saying you have to eliminate alcohol completely? Well, no. Of course as trainers we want our clients and our gym members to be in the best possible position to succeed but not at the expense of fun and living your life and doing what you want to do. If you enjoy a glass of wine or beer with your friends go for it! Just don’t go crazy, and understand that there should be some compromise involved if you are serious about seeing results in the gym.

I will start by giving you my 3 takeaways from this blog! And then, I will dive in a little deeper!

Top 3 Takeaways

  1. Limit your alcohol consumption as much as you can. Limit yourself to no more than 2-3 drinks.
  2. Leave plenty of time between workouts and alcohol consumption. The longer you wait, the less severe the impact is on protein synthesis.
  3. Choose drinks that don’t contain high amounts of mixes or added sugar. This keeps sugar levels down and eliminates excess calories.

Does Drinking Alcohol Limit Muscle Growth Potential?

If you are a regular gym goer, hopefully you have some idea about calories, macronutrients and micronutrients, and the benefit syncing your food intake with your training has on the performance and the results you see. As far as macronutrients go, the following is a basic breakdown;

  • 1 gram of carb contains 4 calories,
  • 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, and
  • 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

Lining up your caloric intake and macronutrients is literally the make-or-break point between seeing changes in body composition and seeing performance progressions (or spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere). But where does alcohol fall in all of this? Alcohol is quite different, as it does not contain any macronutrients or micronutrients. But it has 7 calories per 1 gram of alcohol. So, if you have ever heard that alcohol is empty calories, this is why! 

To achieve results in the gym, you need a combination of exercise, nutrition, and recovery. Many assume that because they have a good diet, alcohol will not affect their body. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Having a good meal plan does not outweigh the negative effects of alcohol. 

Alcohol interferes with this process no matter how strict you are with the foods you eat. The main reason for this is that alcohol impairs myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS). Protein synthesis occurs to repair muscle protein. When you exercise, muscles undergo stress and become damaged. To repair this damage, muscles need protein. MPS is the process that promotes protein turnover. 

Alcohol contributes to protein breakdown more than your nutrition does to protein synthesis. When the body degrades muscle protein, it breaks down more muscle than it builds. In other words, never building muscle.

But, to help limit the severity of negative effects, you can work out earlier in the day. Leave as much time in between workouts and consumption of alcohol as you can. This limits the effect it has on muscle protein synthesis.

Alcohol’s Effect on Hormones and Fat Loss

Furthermore, excessive alcohol consumption leads to an imbalance in hormone production. Hormone disruption is common in males, especially the testosterone level. Alcohol has a major impact on the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.

Your body’s endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones. Alcohol affects the glands producing hormones via the nervous system and immune system disturbance. Hormones control reproduction, growth, and development for the body. Since alcohol increases blood sugar levels, the body undergoes extra stress, which impacts the liver, pancreas, and stomach. 

While alcohol affects many organs, it impacts the liver the most. The liver filters out alcohol and other toxins, which is why excess alcohol consumption creates a fatty liver. Fatty liver influences your metabolism and how your body stores energy. The buildup of fat is a result of the body prioritizing alcohol calories over stored energy. This takes away from burning fats, carbs, and protein in the body.

How Does Alcohol Impair Performance and Recovery?

Alcohol creates inflammation in the body, especially the stomach. This impacts the immune system, which is responsible for protecting against injury and sickness. A strong immune system leads to higher performance levels, weight loss, and muscle growth.

Consuming alcohol puts extra stress on the immune system. Over time this weakness takes focus away from recovery and performance. Instead the body tries to protect itself against the chronic alcohol consumption.

It is important to attain adequate amounts of rest to be able to perform better. Consuming alcohol can lead to weight gain and stress, and with this comes higher heart rate and blood pressure. When the body works overtime, hypertension and cardiovascular disease become more prevalent.

One of the most important aspects to the recovery process is sleep. The impact alcohol has on sleep cycles leads to hormone imbalances. You might assume that just a few drinks are okay to help you relax or fall asleep. However, it is quite the opposite because it disrupts all sleep cycles, including REM sleep. This deep sleep cycle is vital to health and performance. 

During this cycle you are in a deep sleep where brain activity, muscle repair, and learning is at its highest. Alcohol has a huge effect on sleep disturbances and insomnia, which can eventually create hunger and satiety issues.

Digestion is disrupted and stomach lining becomes inflamed. Excess acid and irritation of the stomach causes dehydration. This is problematic because muscle cells need water to prevent shrinking and injuries. 

Dehydration causes the body to experience low energy levels and decreased athletic performance.

Negative Effects of Consuming Alcohol After a Workout

By now we know that attaining higher levels of protein synthesis and less muscle protein breakdown increases muscle growth potential. After a workout your body needs to begin rebuilding the muscle tissue that was broken down and torn.

At the end of the day, moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable. Though excessive alcohol consumption following a workout is not. It slows protein turnover and increases fat storage. This interrupts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. 

Fat storage increases because of insulin sensitivity. When alcohol creates resistance to insulin, the body’s blood sugar and estrogen levels rise. Exercising for weight loss and muscle growth is most beneficial with limited alcohol consumption.

So again, do I think you should stop drinking alcohol entirely? Not really, if you can do it great! Good for you! If you don’t think that’s realistic, then compromise and hold yourself accountable!

Top 3 Takeaways

  1. Limit your alcohol consumption as much as you can. Limit yourself to no more than 2-3 drinks.
  2. Leave plenty of time between workouts and alcohol consumption. The longer you wait the less severe the impact is on protein synthesis.
  3. Choose drinks that don’t contain high amounts of mixes or added sugar. This keeps sugar levels down and eliminates excess calories.

Written By: Ashley Dunwell, MS, NASM-CPT