Will alcohol prevent me gaining muscle?

You love a good drinking session but you also love a great workout and building some real muscle.

Can you do both?

If you haven’t read my article ‘Will alcohol stop me losing weight?’ take a look here as this article will predominantly focus on alcohol’s effect on your ability to build muscle.

So let’s get straight into the facts…

Reduced testosterone production

If you want to build muscle one of the first considerations you should have is if you are producing an optimal amount of testosterone.

Unfortunately every time you consume alcohol this key anabolic hormones production plummets.

Studies have shown that consuming 1.5g of alcohol per kg body weight will suppress testosterone by 23% 10-16 hours after ingestion with no significant differences 3-9 hours after ingestion. Thinking about day to day life this tends to tie in with a hangover the morning after a night out. So don’t expect to be pushing those big weights aggressively after a night on the tiles.

If you lay in bed on the weekend crying at the sad bits of Disney movies you know you’ve had too many 😉

The effects of this suppression in production appears to be dose dependant with longer durations and higher alcohol intake leading to less testosterone.

Empty calories

For growth you need building blocks (protein) and a calorie surplus of good quality carbs and fats. Alcohol itself provides neither of these. Giving you a source of calories but no nutrition. The three substrates which assist growth through numerous pathways are proteins (4kcals per gram), carbs (4kcals per gram) and fats (9kcals per gram). Alcohol fits into none of these categories at 7kcals per gram and this doesn’t include the calories in the actual drink.

For example a pint of lager would have upwards of 250kcals, 100+kcals of which come from the alcohol itself and a further 50+kcals from the carbohydrates in the lager.

Wine and spirits contain less carbs but think what happens to your calorie intake when your spirits are mixed with sugary sodas, syrups and fatty creams.

Excess calories with no nutrients is simply asking for fat storage, not growth.

Beer belly

Alcohol intake increases your abdominal obesity risk. It’s not direct fat gain from the alcohol which is the issue. But because alcohol can’t be stored anywhere in the body, it must be oxidised (broken down in the presence of oxygen) and converted into energy and because it’s toxic it will be dealt with before anything else. So whilst this is happening, the oxidation of carbs and fats is suppressed and these are channelled into body fat storage instead. You could be using this food intake for growth but it can’t be used efficiently whilst your body is dealing with alcohol.

Reduced performance & recovery

If your body is dealing with alcohol and ‘switching off’ your ability digest and convert your food into energy, you’re going to experience a dip in performance. The muscle cells simply won’t have as much stored energy within them. This will not only reduce the amount of weight you can lift it will also reduce your ability to recover between sets and between workouts.

Less delivery of sugars to muscles stores the day or evening before a workout reduce the amount of energy you will have stored before you get to the gym.

Less delivery of sugars to the exercising muscles during a workout after a night out will slow recovery and make you feel lethargic.

Less digestion and assimilation of protein between workouts will limit repair and inhibit growth.

A lack of carbs stored within the muscle will also reduce your ability to get a good ‘pump’ when training.

Reduced performance & recovery 2. – dehydration

Alcohol dehydrates you as it has a diuretic effect on the kidneys making you urinate more fluid than you consume (which is why you need to go to the toilet so often when you drink). It’s estimated for every 1g of alcohol you drink, urine excretion increases by around 10ml.

A hormone called vasopressin is also reduced which tells your kidneys to reabsorb water rather than flush it out through the bladder. With this natural signal switched off the bladder is free to fill up with liquid letting you know it’s time for your next toilet trip.

Dehydrated muscles will not get a full ‘pump’ during a workout also reducing one of the ways that muscles signal the growth response from the stress you place on it during a workout.

Nearly every chemical process required for muscle growth happens in the presence of water. If you are dehydrated this further reduces you ability to grow.

A sluggish dehydrated blood supply to the damaged muscles will also inhibit the delivery of much needed substrates and chemicals for growth and repair. Not to mention the incredibly slow delivery of energy to your muscles during your workout. It’s been shown that losses in excess of 5% of body weight can decrease the capacity of a workout by about 30%!

Nutrient depletion

Alcohol can also be considered as a ‘blocking agent’ as it prevents you absorbing several vitamins and minerals. But it also depletes the body of certain nutrients, predominantly the water soluble vitamins like the B complex and vitamin C. Along with minerals such as magnesium and calcium.

Any vitamin or mineral deficiencies will have a very negative impact on your gains.

Digestive damage

Another aspect of alcohol that will have a potential negative impact on your muscle growth is its potential damage to your digestive tract over a long term. Alcohol is a by-product of yeast which can irritate the lining of your stomach and gradually weaken your kidneys and liver over time, reducing their efficiency.

Long term alcohol consumption can cause damage to the stomach and small intestine linings leading to leaky gut syndrome, the separation of tight junctions between the cells of the gut wall. Limiting your ability to release enzymes and absorb food properly.

Partially digested food particles may cross the gut wall, activating the immune system. This leads to a whole cascade of inflammation in the body and reduces your ability to digest, absorb and utilise your food efficiently.

You can probably see that if your health is effected your ability to grow is too.  Your body will try to run efficiently, fighting inflammation and supporting your immune system before it attempts to build new muscle for you.

Bad behaviour

If you’re going to have a ‘drink’ this is usually preceded by a meal with little regard for the calorie content or the behaviour surrounding it.

Late nights, junk food, chemicals, etc all this needs to be dealt with before creating a healthy environment to support muscular growth.

Alcohol has also been shown to effect motivation, making it harder to adhere to a diet and training programme consistently.

Oestrogen

Alcohol can actually cause man-boobs and throw your testosterone balance out of sync. The Hops in beer are converted to oestrogen in the body and if consumed consistently over time your liver simply cannot keep up with the removal of this excess oestrogen.

You may begin to exhibit female characteristics, such as breast tissue and loss of body hair. You could even experience testicular atrophy.

Increased cortisol

Alcohol has been shown to spike cortisol levels four hours after consumption and for another 24 hours leading to greater stress on the body. Testosterone and cortisol tend to work in see saw. When cortisol is high, testosterone is low. Chronically elevated cortisol from constant stressors like alcohol abuse can be very destructive leading to fat storage, breaking down of your hard earned muscle (catabolism), disrupted sleep, reduced libido, supressed appetite, chronically low testosterone etc..

Matt Knight is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.