Nutrition

Does Alcohol Affect Muscle Growth?

As the week comes to an end, you may want to grab a few drinks with friends. But if you are trying to build muscle and improve body composition you might want to think twice. Alcohol can interfere with your results.

Does this mean you have to eliminate alcohol completely? Let’s dive deeper into why alcohol limits muscle growth potential and you can decide for yourself. 

Does Drinking Alcohol Limit Muscle Growth Potential?

As a fitness professional you know,

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

Alcohol is quite different as it does not contain any macronutrients or micronutrients. But it has 7 calories per 1 gram of alcohol. If you have ever heard that alcohol is empty calories, this is why.

So, what actually makes alcohol detrimental to your health?

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

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.

Many try combining protein sources with alcohol to outweigh the negative effects. This does not diminish the effects of alcohol on muscle growth. 

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

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. 

It is more difficult for the body to absorb key nutrients in this environment. Calcium is one mineral that conflicts with alcohol. The absorption rate lowers and leads to osteoporosis, mainly in women. 

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.

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. 

Ready to learn more about how you can enhance your client’s fitness through what they eat? Take your clients' nutrition to the next level through the ISSA’s Nutrition Certification

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Please note: The information provided in this course is for general educational purposes only. The material is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider regarding particular medical conditions and needs. Be sure to check the statutes in your state regarding the nutrition information that non-licensed individuals are able to dispense.

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