Are You Drinking Away Your Muscle Gains?

Key points

  • Alcohol, scientifically termed as ethanol, does not provide any sort of nutrition to your body like other macronutrients, except for an instant boost of energy.
  • It is important to understand the composition of your drink as well as its quantity to determine how many calories you are consuming.
  • Due to lack of micronutrients in alcohol, it gets oxidised quickly and therefore needs to be burned off before it displaces other fuels in the body.
  • Alcohol contains acetaldehyde which is toxic for testosterone production in men, and hampers muscle growth by interfering in mTOR signalling.
  • Consumption of alcohol along with other dietary fat is not the best,with respect to fat storage.

When we consume alcohol, we rarely ponder over questions like how much is enough? Which one is better? How often should it be consumed? etc. Gradually, all these queries start to crop up in one’s mind. Before diving into the benefits and disadvantages of drinking, we should start with identifying some basic facts about our cherishable drink.

Alcohol contains 7 kcal per gram. That means that alcohol is calorifically very dense and needs to be burnt off on consumption. For those drinkers who are very dedicated towards their workout routines at the gym, are often quite worried about their alcohol intake and its effects on their muscle strength, immune function and how much is safe to drink for a healthy life. Well, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is a cause of concern. Alcohol, scientifically termed as ethanol, does not provide any sort of nutrition to your body like protein, fats and carbs, except for an instant boost of energy. Contrastingly, due to lack of micronutrition, it gets oxidised quickly and therefore needs to be burned off before it displaces other fuels in the body. [2]

That is not to say that all alcohol drinks have a universal effect on each individual. The serving size (in millilitres) needs to put together with the ABV to get the final calories you are consuming. While white wine contains 5%-14% Alcohol by Volume (ABV) beer, brandy and spirits contain 40% alcohol.

You must have noticed that there is a difference in the amount of alcohol consumption that is recommended for men and women. This is because when the alcohol enters your body, it produces a chain of reactions which are largely distinct in both cases. Alcohol contains acetaldehyde which is toxic for the man. Also, when the alcohol enters your body (in this case, a male), it starts to play its role in the liver, rapidly converting testosterone into estrogen, with very little of it remaining in circulation. What it means for males is that with constant alcohol abuse would eventually lead to a dip in testosterone producing capability. [6]

Almost everyone has a faint idea about lower testosterone production, but, what it exactly is doing to your muscle growth is the area that is underestimated. Testosterone plays a huge role in muscle growth as it signals the mTOR pathway to your muscles. The role of this signalling pathway is that it helps to sense and integrate “a variety of environmental cues to regulate organismal growth and homeostasis.” [5] Acute and chronic alcohol consumption can impair mTor initiation that takes a toll on the skeletal muscle protein synthesis, decreasing its rates drastically. [9]

Needless to say, decreasing levels also indicate lesser muscle growth for the individual. Myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) is a complicated name for a simple process that describes how the body adapts and responds to a workouts session or exercise. This is very crucial when it comes to muscle growth and hypertrophy. Post-workout drinking can severely interfere with this process and negatively impact your muscle gains. [1]

When it comes to the female body, the tables turn completely. What is toxic for the male testes, is actually very good for their female counterparts. Alcohol tends to increase the testosterone as well as estrogen levels in women, where the latter is actually beneficial for muscle growth and does not hamper mTOR signalling either. [5]

So where does that leave you with the decision of how much is safe to drink. Well, if weight loss is your concern then you should surely be aware that if you are consuming alcohol along with other dietary fat then that’s definitely not going to help you. However, if consumed without any other calorie intake, it will not affect you negatively, instead it could also yield some fat-loss benefits.[7]

Fitness enthusiasts are also concerned about their muscle growth. Moderate drinking wouldn’t harm you but in case you are a heavy drinker, be sure to witness your muscle growth going down the drain as the alcohol interferes with it and also slows recovery. This is believed to happen the maximum if you consume large amounts of alcohol post-workout, especially in men. [ibid]

Recovery after a workout is as essential for a heavy weight training routine. Your body needs time to refuel itself to come back to normal. For this, replenish your body with the lost fluids by drinking lots of water. Water supports the nutrient transfer and other functions, especially when you have experienced hours of sweating. Alcohol plays a role her too. So when you sweat out at the gym, you lose a lot of fluids from your body. Straight from there, you go drinking with a bunch of friends. The body, on an average, requires eight hours to recover from a training session or a game, as per Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist. [3] Since you’ve already lost fluids, what alcohol simply does is that it dehydrates you by making you release whatever water content is left in your body. This disrupts the ability of the body to synthesize and repair muscle fibres, hampering recovery.

As a final note, here is culmination of advices and tips for binge-drinking based on several studies and researches done in this field:

1. Limit the fat intake on the day of drinking. This is the most important advice to follow as we often tend to indulge in eating fatty food pre or during drinking. This is harmful as the alcohol enters your body through stomach and intestines, passing through the liver and entering your blood. The liver breaks down this alcohol into acetate each time it passes. This suppresses the ability of the body to breakdown the fat and instead starts storing it. Sometimes, the acetate also starts getting stored as fat if the energy is not expended. That how alcohol facilitates weight gain.

2. Try to drink on rest days rather than indulging in post-workout drinks

3. If you want minimal damage from alcohol, consume a proper meal before going drinking. A full stomach slows down the rate of alcohol absorption in blood drastically.

4. Instead of binge-eating after a night of getting wasted, prepare a good-filling meal beforehand so that your calorie intake doesn’t shoot up in a night.  [4]

References:

1. Evolution Nutrition (2015). “The Effects of Alcohol on Muscle Gains”. Retrieved September 03, 2020. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5567/the-effects-of-alcohol-on-muscle-gains/

2. Hall, S. (2019). “Full Guide: Alcohol and Fitness”. Retrieved August 26, 2020. https://revivestronger.com/full-guide-alcohol-and-fitness/

3. Hamilton, H. (2018). “The Science of Drinking Post-Workout”. Retrieved September 03, 2020. https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/the-science-of-drinking-post-workout

4. Henselmans, M. (2020). “The science of binge drinking: 7 Tips to get wasted without wasting your gains”. Retrieved August 26, 2020. https://mennohenselmans.com/science-binge-drinking/

5. Henselmans ,M. & Willigen, Stijn (2019). “The effects of alcohol on muscle growth”. Retrieved August 26, 2020.  https://mennohenselmans.com/the-effects-of-alcohol-on-muscle-growth/

6. Laplante, M & Sabatini, D. (2012). “MTOR signaling in growth control and disease”. Retrieved September 03, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3331679/

7. Legge, A. (2020). “How Bad Is Alcohol for You, Really?”. Retrieved August 26, 2020.  https://legionathletics.com/is-alcohol-bad-for-you/.

8. Quinn, E. (2019). “10 Tips to Speed Recovery After Exercise”. Retrieved September 03, 2020. https://www.verywellfit.com/ways-to-speed-recovery-after-exercise-3120085

9. Steiner, J et al (2014). “Alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTOR signaling in a time-dependent manner following electrically stimulated muscle contraction”. Retrieved September 03, 2020.

https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00180.2014

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