Alcohol, often the focal point of a social gathering, the highlight of the weekend for some people who indulge in a glass of wine; for gym buffs, bodybuilders or those looking to gain some lean muscle though, it’s often considered a bane to their social life. There’s often the perception that it’s either protein or pints, i.e. that you can’t have both a social life and achieve peak muscle growth. In this article, discover the effects of alcohol on muscle growth – could low alcohol be a solution?

We know that consumption of alcohol should be in moderation as it could be considered a liquid cheat meal and does contribute to overall calorie and macronutrient intake. More concerning though is the fact that excessive alcohol consumption is linked to a range of negative health impacts including increased risk of cancer, elevated blood pressure, strokes and behavioural changes to name but a few.

But what exactly are the effects of alcohol on bodybuilding and muscle growth? With the advent of healthy alcoholic drinks and alcohol-free drinks becoming increasingly prevalent, could this upcoming niche provide a solution for gym-enthusiasts who also want to maintain a social life?

Alcohol, champagne, sparkling wine, workout, muscle

Does alcohol affect muscle growth?

While the effects of alcohol consumption on muscle growth have been studied, the majority of papers have assessed heavy drinking as opposed to moderate alcohol consumption, so this is something to bear in mind when considering the below studies.

Alcohol consumption has been shown to attenuate the benefits of dietary protein consumption in males and females with a normal muscle mass baseline. Separate studies also observed reduce protein synthesis in rats and additionally an impaired ability to build new muscle.

Muscle synthesis is peaked under hydrated conditions. It’s evident that an optimal workout is heavily reliant on adequate hydration, especially during a workout as dehydration increases the feeling of strain on the body. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the production of urine and consequently can lead to dehydration – a fundamental contributor to your hangover. What’s more, a lack of adequately hydrated muscle cells leads to depleted muscle anabolism.

Studies have also investigated the impact of alcohol consumption and optimal nutrient intake on muscle synthesis. The results evidenced a partial rescue of muscle growth when coincided with prime meal intake; (24% reduction in protein synthesis when alcohol was ingested with protein; 37% reduction when alcohol was consumed with carbohydrates). However, reduced muscle anabolism was still prevalent when compared with participants at rest.

It’s also been demonstrated that alcohol consumption post-workout leads to increased weakness following eccentric exercise in a male study group. Performance decline was observed as high as 44.8% 36 hours following acute alcohol consumption. The reduced performance was linked to muscle damage as opposed to the alcohol consumption itself.

Testosterone is a horomone which promotes muscle growth. In a limited study, a group of males and females had their testosterone levels assessed following moderate alcohol consumption over a 6-week period. They were provided with 40g (males) and 30g (females) of beer per day to consume with their dinner. This equates to 2-3 drinks per day.

The effects of consuming alcohol over a period of 3 weeks demonstrated a 6.8% reduction in testosterone for males and no observed effect on females. In essence, the impact could be considered limited, assuming many fitness enthusiasts are unlikely to consume 2-3 beers for such a duration as was completed in the study.

In a separate study on males, 10-16 hours following consumption of approximately 10 beers, testosterone levels were observed to decline 23%. The assumption here would be that timing of workouts should be factored in based on alcohol consumption. Furthermore, drinking pre and post-workout should be avoided.

Are low alcohol drinks an option?

The world of fitness and health is becoming a growing market. Alcohol beverage companies have identified this trend and have retaliated to the resistance of alcohol consumption in true fighting form. In a bid to tap into this exponentially growing health movement, many vendors are branching into a new industry of low and no alcohol drinks. Consequently, we’re finally seeing a growing range of both healthy alcoholic drinks and alcohol-free drinks.

Of course, some alcohol industries latched on to the popularity of healthy alcoholic drinks for women who were calorie-conscious by launching some of the lowest calorie alcoholic drinks. Examples include Bud Light which was launched in the 80s, and was preceded by Coors Light launched back in the 70s. These low calorie alcohol drinks were also lower in alcohol, and to this day are still widely recognised as some of the leading alcoholic beverages on the market.

The introduction of low and no-alcohol beverages provides an avenue for healthy enthusiasts, bodybuilders and people looking to gain lean muscle but don’t want to encounter the negative effects of depleted muscle synthesis. That said, accountability will still be needed to incorporate calorie and macronutrient intake, however it’s a small price to pay. If you are opting to socialise, consuming a non-alcoholic beverage after a workout could be considered ideal timing as the body needs fuel to recover from the workout.

Beer, alcohol, muscle, protein

Tips to minimise alcohol impact protein synthesis

The effects of alcohol on muscle synthesis have been examined in both moderate and heavy drinkers.

Consumption of correct nutrition, with particular emphasis on protein, following ingestion of alcohol can minimise the depletion of skeletal muscle in the body. So while you may have indulged in a few drinks after your workout, the best response is to maintain correct nutrition and not let alcohol hinder your judgement!

It’s evident the impacts of alcohol consumption can cause increased damage before and after a workout. Ideally, avoiding alcohol around these times is the optimum solution.

Adequate hydration will play a key role in minimising alcohol-induced dehydration and dehydration-induced muscle depletion.

Utilisation of healthy alcohol drinks and, in particular, non-alcoholic beers and wines can certainly help limit your alcohol intake into the blood stream and consequently, the degree of muscle breakdown than has been observed by high blood-alcohol levels.

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Finally, instead of trying to completely eliminate alcohol from your life, try to achieve a healthy balance by only consuming a few drinks every now and then as opposed to heavy drinking sessions.

Water, alcohol, workout, healthy

Summary

  • Evidence is still somewhat inconclusive regarding moderate alcohol consumption and muscle depletion
  • Alcohol should be avoided before and after workouts
  • Acute alcohol consumption adversely affects muscle growth and can contribute to muscle catabolism
  • Prioritise optimum nutrient consumption, even when drinking alcohol
  • Moderation is paramount to minimise the adverse effects of alcohol on protein synthesis
  • Choose drinks with a low alcohol volume, or better still, non-alcoholic drinks

Sources

Barnes, M., Mündel, T. and Stannard, S. (2009). Post-exercise alcohol ingestion exacerbates eccentric-exercise induced losses in performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(5), pp.1009-1014.

Brenner-Roach, T. (2017). How to Drink Socially Without Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals. [online] Observer. Available at: https://observer.com/2017/05/protein-synthesis-alcohol-consumption-muscle-gain/ [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

Legion, T. (2017). 6 Amazing Things That Happen When You Stop Drinking Alcohol. [online] Legion Athletics. Available at: https://legionathletics.com/what-happens-when-you-stop-alcohol/ [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

Parr, E., Camera, D., Areta, J., Burke, L., Phillips, S., Hawley, J. and Coffey, V. (2014). Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLoS ONE, 9(2), p.e88384.

Sierksma, A., Sarkola, T., Eriksson, C., Gaag, M., Grobbee, D. and Hendriks, H. (2004). Effect of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on Plasma Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, Testosterone, and Estradiol Levels in Middle-Aged Men and Postmenopausal Women: A Diet-Controlled Intervention Study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 28(5), pp.780-785.

So, E. and Joung, H. (2019). Alcohol Consumption Reduces the Beneficial Influence of Protein Intake on Muscle Mass in Middle-Aged Korean Adults: A 12-Year Community-Based Prospective Cohort Study. Nutrients, 11(9), p.2143.

Steiner, J., Kimball, S. and Lang, C. (2015). Acute Alcohol-Induced Decrease in Muscle Protein Synthesis in Female Mice Is REDD-1 and mTOR-Independent. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 51(3), pp.242-250.

Valimaki, M., Tuominen, J., Huhtaniemi, I. and Ylikahri, R. (1990). The Pulsatile Secretion of Gonadotropins and Growth Hormone, and the Biological Activity of Luteinizing Hormone in Men Acutely Intoxicated with Ethanol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 14(6), pp.928-931.

Vary, T. C., & Lang, C. H. (2008). Assessing effects of alcohol consumption on protein synthesis in striated muscles. Methods in Molecular Biology447, 343-355.

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18 Comments

Lee Goupil · 13/02/2020 at 9:00 PM

I don’t compete or have to make weight anymore but when I did alcohol was always cut out of the diet during camp.
I didn’t know any science about it then but I could see it on the scale.
Even now as well, I notice a huge difference when I cut out alcohol.

I’m not really a New Year’s resolution person but I always need to lose some pounds after the holidays.
I always gain weight from all the foods I don’t normally eat, I drink a lot more then normal, and don’t exercise on my normal schedule.

The older I’ve gotten the more work is required to trim off the extra pounds I’ve gained.
When I cut out alcohol on the weekends (the only time I’ll ever drink usually) I’ll get to my goal weight much quicker.

    Sharon · 13/02/2020 at 9:59 PM

    Hi Lee,

    That’s interesting to hear, although probably not surprising in a way. Alcohol is essentially empty calories after all. It’s great that by cutting alcohol you can lose the necessary few pounds though!

    Sharon

Lee Goupil · 14/02/2020 at 3:53 AM

A little off topic on the article sorry, but I wanted to chime that in.
You stated very clearly the affects alcohol has on MPS.

Moderation and just avoiding alcohol before and after as you suggested is the way to go.

    Sharon · 15/02/2020 at 10:41 AM

    Absolutely, especially in the absence of concrete evidence. I personally notice it negatively impacts on me even if it’s just a couple of drinks

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Stephanie · 15/02/2020 at 11:56 AM

This is so incredibly interesting! My husband is a gym nut, and we just recently decided to cut alcohol out of our lives and now when we feel like a beer, we reach for a non-alcoholic beer. Hubby feels it’s just not the same, I am going to show him this article to keep him motivated! Your research will show him that he is headed in the right direction and that no alcohol will help him in his efforts at the gym. Thanks so much!

    Sharon · 15/02/2020 at 1:17 PM

    Definitely do show your husband! We’re fortunately in an age where non-alcoholic beverages are becoming more available and with a better taste/quality. It might be a case of his taste buds needing to adapt to the different flavour. I usually try things that I don’t enjoy a couple of times before I give up on them.

    Best of luck with it all,
    Sharon

Lisa · 15/02/2020 at 4:57 PM

Thanks for this fascinating article Sharon!

As a keen, although very amateur, CrossFit participant and an occasional Hash runner the odd alcoholic beverage is part of the culture. I have to admit, particularly after a hard run the taste of a cold beer has become quite satiating, but after reading this I’ll be reaching for the non-alcoholic option a bit more frequently!

Of the no or low alcohol beverage alternatives I’m assuming it would it be better to choose something like a Beck’s Blue which has 39 calories and half a gram of sugar over something like a juice with a much higher calorie and sugar load. Is there anything else that should be taken into account when drinking alcohol free or reduced beverages?

Thanks!
Lisa

    Sharon · 16/02/2020 at 7:26 AM

    Hi Lisa,

    Glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, for most people who will be looking to minimise the calorific surplus from their beverage of choice, ones with low calories and low sugar while being of good quality (limited artificial ingredients etc.) is the way to go. If you are someone who is monitoring macronutrient/calorie intake, then just remember to account for them.

    Also, as you alluded to, just because a certain drink is considered healthy, e.g. juice which typically contains a high sugar, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is; look into the nutritional value for guidance before just assuming anything.

    Hope this helps,
    Sharon

Tom · 18/04/2020 at 7:20 AM

Hi Sharon,

I totally agree with your really informative and interesting article. At the beginning of the year it was my resolution to not drink at all for 365 days. I kept it up for 2 months, so to the end of February and I gave in and had a drink on a friend’s birthday (before coronavirus). Then I had a few more occasions where I had a drink, but not many.

I was working out very well too and losing weight. But, since we have been in lock down it’s been so difficult to keep up with the workout. My diet has slipped too. But, I am sticking to not drinking (not had a drink for a month).

I am going to get back into the workout habit, I know I am. So I will let you know when I do and how I am getting on.

Thank you for sharing this great article, and keep up the amazing work on your site.

All the best,

Tom

    Sharon · 18/04/2020 at 12:47 PM

    Hi Tom,

    That is a tough resolution to achieve, but well done on keeping it going for 2 whole months! Yes, that’s an unfortunate effect of this Covid-19 pandemic we find ourselves in. Many people look at it as an opportunity to try out different exercises and it also changes things up from the gym too. I know it’s not ideal, but we have to work with what we’ve got!

    It can also be difficult sticking to a diet, especially when people are in the vicinity of their fridge or eating out of boredom, just don’t shoot yourself down too much for it!

    Best of luck with the new workout habits, for me routine is essential!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Srdjan · 18/04/2020 at 10:53 AM

Hey, thanks for the information and tips you provided. I try to train as much as possible lately. Before COVID-19 lockdown I use to get to the gym or just for the long run. Unfortunately, since the lockdown, most of us are forced to workout form home and to improvise. As for alcohol consumption, I try to avoid it. But what I find that one beer after good cardio helps me to relax my muscle, to be honest sometimes I take two 🙂

    Sharon · 18/04/2020 at 12:51 PM

    Hi there,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope the article was of interest and use to you and you found some nuggets of information to take away! Yes, that’s certainly true, we just have to compromise and use whatever resources we have, whether it’s a local park for a run or some resistance bands lying around the house.

    That’s a new one on me, but I guess whatever works – no judgement from my side!

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Kevin · 18/04/2020 at 1:46 PM

I am not that much of a drinker, only have one every now and then but after all those facts. Looks like I am lucky I am Not a heavy drinker at all. Thank you for this great article.

    Sharon · 18/04/2020 at 4:21 PM

    Hi Kevin,

    You are definitely better off, regardless of whether you’re interested in muscle or not. Now there’s nothing wrong with a couple of drinks, but many people don’t know when to stop.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Sharon

Duni · 18/04/2020 at 6:53 PM

Good to know you don’t have to cut drinking completely to get still get the benefits of working out. Like they say, “everything in moderation”.

Great read, thanks a lot for sharing!

    Sharon · 18/04/2020 at 7:43 PM

    Hi Duni,

    It really is, I’m a real advocate for ‘everything in moderation’, so it’s good to see we’re on the same page. Hope you found the article interesting as well as educational!

    Sharon

Partha · 18/04/2020 at 9:07 PM

Hi Sharon,

Well I’ve always been an avid gym-goer and an avid drinker I guess!

I always knew I could be fitter, stronger, have a better looking body, without the booze, but I was pleased with what I had.

I looked and felt as though I worked out and I enjoyed a good social life (perhaps even hectic at times).

However, last year was a bit of a turning point for me.

I decided to take part in a Spartan race and took the training extremely seriously. So much so in fact, I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol for 4 months.

After 25+ years of working out (and drinking lol) I was the fittest and strongest I had ever been and I won’t even begin to talk about the fantastic effects on my mental health.

It did teach me a massive lesson all-in-all.

The Friday and Saturday night binge drinking sessions have gone, but I’ll still enjoy a glass of wine with a meal and a couple of midweek beers (and I mean just a couple).

It feels amazing to me that 10 months after completing the Spartan race I am still in better shape now than I was in my 20s and I’m lifting heavier, running faster, and working out more intensely.

I think it shows that alcohol consumption was having a greater impact on my workouts than I thought.

Cheers
Partha

    Sharon · 19/04/2020 at 8:21 PM

    Hi there,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope the article was of interest and use to you and you found some nuggets of information to take away!

    You sound like you’ve really hit the jackpot, that much be so exhilarating to feel so much stronger and healthier. People often think that as they get older, they can’t get fitter, but you’re proof that this is not the case! Congratulations on achieving that and sticking to it, I love to hear motivational stories like this!

    That’s true, many people who become professional or at least enthusiastic about their health recognise the inhibitions associated with alcohol consumption and either reduce it or eliminate it altogether.

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

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