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Is Alcohol Killing Your Gains?
The Truth About Alcohol Consumption And Fitness
We all know drinking isn’t good for us—at least we should know this. The question is, can you fit the booze into your fitness program? The answer is: it depends on your goals. While definitely unhealthy in excess, can you still get results while drinking—sure—but there are numerous factors working against us.
How Alcohol Effects Your Body (In Terms Of Fitness)
We aren’t going to dive into things like liver damage and toxicity—this is largely obvious—nor is doctoral work within the scope of this article. We are going to view this from a strict fitness and bodybuilding perspective, not for general health—as to be frank—there are nearly no benefits outside of resveratrol in wine. You could simply supplement with resveratrol, rather than get it and calories from wine.
Alcohol has various impacts on physiological aspects of your body that can impede progress. Does this mean a beer or 2 will kill your gains? Absolutely not, but frequently drinking heavily can absolutely impede your gains and have the opposite result we’re trying to achieve.
Alcohol and Fat Loss
The first issue we’ll run into—above all else—is calories. Alcohol is essentially all empty calorie—you would not want to fuel your body solely on beer (though, it is theoretically possible). How much this effects you will be a matter of your caloric intake. If you can fit alcohol into your daily caloric allotment will you lose weight? Yes, this is the law of thermodynamics and it applies—even to alcohol.
Alcohol has about 7 calories per gram, making it more calorie dense than protein and carbs, and only slightly less than fat. If you really want to get into the weeds you can track this knowing a serving of liquor is going to be around 70 calories. Per Beer, we are looking at anywhere from 90 (light beer) to 170 calories in a full bodied beer. Wine will be around 100-140 calories per serving.
You can allot for this and still meet your daily calorie goal; however, the issue in question is consumption. Most people won’t stop at just a few beers—they will have 6 (about 600 calories) to 24 (2400 calories). A big bender can most definitely set you back in terms of caloric intake.
Alcohol also has a negative effect on insulin sensitivity—this as we know from this post will effect the way we store body fat.
Another huge problem is alcohol’s effect on inhibition. You are MUCH more likely to indulge in junk food when you’re drinking. The little voice in your head will convince you it’s okay to have that pizza or burger and fries. This is going to—on top of the calories in alcohol—increase your total calorie consumption substantially.
Decreased Muscle Protein Synthesis
Alcohol has a very negative effect on muscle protein synthesis—this effectively means you are not going to be in the right conditions to build muscle. Even when consuming protein around your alcohol consumption, it has been shown to decrease MPS by over 50%.
Alcohol also disrupts other MPS signalers like mTOR and IGF-1 which are critical for muscle growth and anabolism. You will most definitely be limiting your gains after a night of heavy drinking.
The way around this is to workout earlier and try to get most of your protein around that window; however, you are still going to see significantly less MPS than you would otherwise without drinking.
Acute Decrease In Testosterone Levels
Drinking will lower your testosterone levels while you’re partaking. This is partially because you will have elevated levels of the stress hormone—cortisol—which is highly catabolic (muscle wasting), and it limits the communication between your androgen receptor (the receptor that signals testosterone to bind to the muscle). By limiting this communication, your body will not send testosterone to the androgen receptor which will also limit MPS.
You will disrupt other hormones within the endocrine system which signal the production of testosterone. Long term, this will greatly affect your testosterone levels and lead to a severe deficiency.
Beer is also loaded with highly estrogenic hops. Add this to the above effects and you are creating a VERY terrible environment for healthy testosterone levels to exist.
Alcohol and Recovery
Anyone who has ever had a hard workout and drank heavily knows the feeling. The day after, you are typically more sore than usual. This is because, in conjunction with what’s mentioned above, your body’s ability to recover has been greatly diminished.
Alcohol acts like a diuretic (there’s always a line for the bathroom at a bar)—this will dehydrate you. Dehydration causes a cascade of negative feedback in the body—to include increased cortisol, stunted muscle growth, and diminished recovery abilities to name a few.
Alcohol also disrupts your body’s sleep cycle—the period you recover the most. If you throw this into the mix with all of the above you’re truly causing the perfect storm for not only a wasted workout, but poor growth.
What To Do About It
To assume most of you will stop drinking is hopeful at best, but would mostly be delusional. There are steps we can take to minimize the impacts of alcohol in our progress.
First and foremost, research has shown that around 3 servings of alcohol will do little in the way of effecting our gains, so a beer or so a night—although not recommended—will do little harm in terms of your progress.
However, if you double this number to 6, you will start to illicit the effects described above. So, if you plan on heavy drinking, doing this once every other week or so won’t cause too much damage.
Drink on days you workout or days before a rest day, rather than on a rest day or a day before a workout. Your hangover will have a negative effect on your performance which will most definitely slow down your progress.
If you were to workout in the morning, get your protein in after your workout (as mentioned above), and then drink later in the day you can mitigate some of the effects on MPS.
When you are drinking, ensure you are also drinking water. This will greatly help with dehydration and help to avoid a hangover the next morning.
You can supplement with NAC to aid your liver’s detoxification process—this can help eliminate some of the toxins that contribute to the hangover.
If you’re obese, stop drinking. Immediately. You’re already at risk, throw in the issues associated with drinking and you’re asking for an early death. Period.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a beverage or 2 on occasion, but that’s the key thing—on occasion. Alcohol should have no habitual place in your life if you care about your health.
You have to be positive of your priorities and the decisions you make. If you are okay with having slow progress and want to keep drinking, go for it. It’s your decision and you know the risk/reward.
If you are trying to achieve an impressive, dream physique, you need to consider if drinking is going to slow you down or make this much less likely to achieve.
If you are unhealthy and overweight, don’t lie to yourself—cut it out. If and when you are in a better place, reevaluate that decision.
Alcohol is terrible for you, this is not up for dispute. However, it is fun and can definitely enhance your social life. The balance between your priorities will be key here.
You’ll more than likely find that you enjoy feeling great and looking incredible more than you do when drunk.
To each their own.
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This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.