No matter what your goals are, surely it makes sense to avoid drinking too much alcohol?
Well, I thought that was a given… But how much does alcohol really impact your fitness goals? We take a look below to examine how alcohol can be detrimental to your goals, whether you’re looking to get fit, build muscle or shred fat.
Alcohol and fitness
Research has shown that alcohol use can cause major failures in muscle development and health goals. Research has also found that alcohol can reduce muscle protein (MPS) synthesis, potentially stunting our muscle growth. Studies also claim that alcohol can change hormone levels and reduce our metabolism, which affects our ability to reduce body fat.
Drinking alcohol in moderation is also often a problem. USDA diet guidelines for Americans recommend only one alcoholic drink per day for women and no more than two for men.
However, less is better where possible. But enjoying a drink is often a liquid “cheat meal” and a reward for completing a strenuous workout, a practice that inadvertently leads to more consumption than recommended. Tut tut.
Research has shown some positive health benefits associated with moderate alcohol use. Mild alcohol consumption has been shown to increase our good cholesterol (HDL) 3 and reduce insulin resistance and stress levels. However, other studies have shown that the negatives of alcohol use outweigh the positives.
Alcohol and building muscle
A small study has been done on how alcohol use affects muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Among the study participants were eight physically active men who performed weightlifting and interval training as part of the testing process. After sports, they drank protein and alcohol and again four hours later.
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Two hours after training, they also drank a carbohydrate diet. Muscle biopsies were taken at rest two and eight hours after physical training.
Alcohol levels elevated above baseline post exercise with both protein and carbohydrate consumption. Muscle biopsies indicated reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) following physical training.
Alcohol and fat loss
Alcohol has been shown to reduce metabolism and our ability to burn fat. It is caused by our body’s response to alcohol instead of consuming proper food.
However, our metabolism changes from burning stored calories in food to eliminating toxic waste. The most important toxic chemicals made from alcohol are called acetaldehyde and acetate.
After two glasses, you may feel an almost immediate urge to go to the restroom. Your body temporarily uses unwanted products as fuel to get rid of toxins. It slows down our natural metabolic process by burning adipose tissue or fat stores. Research has found that alcohol replaces fat as a fuel and adds many calories to our daily needs.
So, while we enjoy a few beers, our metabolism is on pause for fat burning and is breaking down the booze first.
Does alcohol affect your hormones?
There seems to be unreliable evidence of alcohol use and testosterone levels. However, research shows that some alcohol is needed to change testosterone. Of course, long term alcohol abuse can have a significant impact on your overall health.
According to some studies, it would take around nine drinks for a man weighing 180 pounds to reduce testosterone levels after exercise. Decreased testosterone in men can affect muscle growth, reduce sexual function and increase the risk of osteopenia / osteoporosis.
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Other research indicates high alcohol consumption stimulates the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
Alcohol and eating habits
Typically when we drink alcohol, we’re tempted into eating badly, overeating or mindlessly eating while watching TV, for example. Research has shown that alcohol consumption leads to overeating and consuming too many calories.
Alcohol consumption and less healthy eating choices commonly go hand in hand. But it’s not just the food we eat while downing beer, but also the calories in the alcohol itself.
It’s important to pay attention to how many calories you’re drinking:
- Beer (12oz): 150 calories
- Wine (5oz): 100 calories
- Distilled spirits (1.5oz): 100 calories
Alcohol and quality sleep
Alcohol can help us feel more relaxed, but it has been shown to be detrimental to our sleep. Sleep is important for muscle healing and tissue healing. Without enough sleep, we cannot function at the highest level in the gym, or achieve as much muscle growth as we may hope.
According to research, alcohol disrupts our restorative or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Without REM sleep, we may experience daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and poor concentration.
Alcohol and nutrition
Alcohol contains empty calories which lack nutritional value for the body. There are around seven calories per gram compared to four calories per gram found in healthy carbohydrates.
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Plus, many alcoholic drinks are mixed with sugary mixers, adding even more calories to your drinks. Alcohol consumption is shown to impair nutrient absorption by decreasing digestive enzymes.
The bottom line
Being healthy and gaining muscle does not mean you have to completely eliminate alcohol. It just means that it’s important to start making healthier decisions. Creating lean mass and burning fat is hard work and very good nutrient intake is essential.
Given that alcohol is deficient in nutritious foods, occasional and appropriate drinking seems to be an acceptable option.
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