Alcohol Effects On Muscle: (The Ultimate Lifters Guide To Alcohol)

Are you someone who loves their training but also likes the occasional tipple or drinking binge? Do you want to know what the alcohol effects on muscle are?  If so then this lifters guide to alcohol is for you.

Alcohol, the substance with two personalities.  On one side of the coin the occasional drink, even one or two a day has been shown to have some health benefits.  On the other side, it can make us jump on top of police cars, relieve ourselves in public bins and hit on our friend’s wives

But hey, we all know alcohol and can make us do some crazy things, but that’s not what we are here to talk about.  There is only one thing burning through our minds.  How much alcohol, if any, can we drink before we can no longer see our toes, and our cat named Ruben starts using our bellies to block the sun on those warm summer days?


Alcohol Makes You Fat.  Or Does It?

So does it or doesn’t it?  A simple question to answer right.  Well, actually it’s quite the opposite.

Alcohol is a much broader term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol.  When discussing this substance with others, many believe there is a fine line to whether it is food or drugs.

I suppose you could technically class alcohol as a macronutrient.  Just like protein, fats and carbs, it contains a certain amount of calories per gram.  7 calories per gram to be precise.  Now, normally you would think.  Calories equal usable energy.  So surely by this logic alcohol can be used as an energy source?

Well, this is actually where things start to get a little bit tricky now.

Although alcohol probably makes up 80% of a college students diet, it most certainly isn’t an essential nutrient.  I use the term nutrient loosely.  Our bodies do not need ethanol for survival or growth and we can not process it to be used as fuel.  The moment you have your first drink on Saturday night with your mates, your body fights with everything it has to get rid of it from your system.

Ethanol is viewed as a toxin by the body, and because of this is has a greater thermic effect than all the other macros.  Basically, it takes more calories than protein, carbs and fat to process ethanol.

Before I carry on, I would like to point out that when we talk about alcohol consumption with each other or with our doctors etc.  We usually talk about the number of drinks consumed in a week or a day.  But in research terms, ethanol is talked about in grams per day.

The table below shows the calories and grams of alcohol for a few of our favourite drinks.

Drink And Serving SizesAlcohol In GramsCalories
Wine (White)15.1 g Alcohol121 Calories
Wine (Red))15.6 g Alcohol125 Calories
Beer (12 ounces)13.9 g Alcohol153 Calories
Light Beer (12 ounces)11 g Alcohol103 Calories

Lets take a look at the results of a study that used two different groups of men.  Drinkers and non drinkers.  Each group of men did an identical amount of physical activity. The study showed that men who drank an average of 4 beers (56 g ethanol) a day took in 16% more calories compared to the non drinking group.

Now if you were to look at this logically, you would automatically assume the drinking group would have piled on quite a few more pounds then the non-drinking group.  However, this wasn’t the case.  Despite all those extra calories the drinkers consumed, both groups ended up with the same body mass index.

So is alcohol unjustifiably given a bad rap, when actually it not only gives us an outrageous amount of confidence but could also be our secret weapon in our fight against body fat?

Well, as nice as this would be, it’s highly doubtful.  There have never been any studies done matching up two groups of non-drinkers and drinkers who both consumed exactly the same amount of total calories and then were followed over a much longer period of time.

A second study looked at two groups of people following a weight loss diet consisting of 1,500 calories.

There was, however, a slight difference in each diet.  One group consumed 150 calories (10% of total calories) from grape juice and the other from white wine.

Now after a three month period of following the diet, the group consuming 150 calories from white wine lost around 2.2 pounds more than the group consuming 150 calories from grape juice.

Statistically, the difference in weight loss wasn’t that significant.  Maybe we would have got a more accurate picture if both groups were studied over a longer period of time.  I believe we would have still had a pretty neutral result.

We know alcohol stimulates more calorie expenditure but at the same time, it can suppress the oxidation of fat.  Basically meaning, although you burn more calories you actually burn less fat.


Alcohol Effects on Testosterone And Muscle Mass

Will drinking alcohol lower your testosterone and demolish all that hard earnt muscle you have built?  I suppose so, but you would probably have to drink an extremely high amount.

It’s hard to get a truly accurate answer due to most of the research out there on the effects alcohol has on muscle is done on alcoholics who on average guzzle down at least 7 drinks per day (100 g of ethanol).

There is a condition called alcohol myopathy which research shows at least one to two-thirds of alcoholics suffer from.  Due to the high intake of alcohol essential nutrients are displaced, which can cause muscle atrophy leading to trouble walking and falling frequently.  Due to this occurring from high quantities of alcohol, I would probably be safe in saying having the odd drink every now and then isn’t going to cause all your muscle to vanish.

However, casual drinkers, listen up.  You aren’t out of the woods just yet.  A further study has shown having at least two beers per day can actually cause your testosterone levels to decrease by as much as 6.8% over just a 3 week period.

But waitThere’s more. No need to go T-Total just yet as having a couple of beers a day has also shown to increase your DHEAS levels (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels) by up to 16.5%.  Basically, this elevation can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, the study didn’t measure the effects the results had on body composition or performance so we can only really speculate over the impact they actually had.

Most of the bodybuilders, powerlifters and athletes I know who consume two and sometimes even three drinks per day seem to be doing okay though.  Especially the more dedicated athletes I know.  They seem to still pack on strength and muscle mass at an alarming rate.

I suppose you could ask whether they would make even better gains if they swapped those alcoholic drinks out for a nice cup of green tea or a protein shake?  Yeah, they probably would, but unless you are competing at the highest level in your sport, I would advise enjoying life as well.  And to be fair there are so many variables that can affect building muscle and strength, that a few drinks a night really isn’t going to be a major issue.


Alcohol Effects On Muscle Recovery and Performance

As you could imagine it would be fairly difficult to get any kind of approval for a study that involves athletes getting drunk after a training session.  Well if you think that would be difficult, imagine how hard it would be to get a study approved that involved athletes getting hammered before a training session.

Well, I don’t know what is needed to get studies of this nature approved, but they have been done.

Study One

In this first study, 19 test subjects including 9 men and 10 women were given the equivalent amount of alcohol as 6 drinks worth.  It’s worth noting that none of these subjects was alcohols and all were healthy individuals.

In this study, the subjects taking part were actually tested before, during and after taking in the alcohol.

You don’t have to be a scientist in order to predict the results of these tests.  Well, so you would think.  Surprisingly the alcohol had no effects that could be observed on a single strength test that was done.  There was also no indication of muscle damage.

Okay, this is just one study so don’t run out and start chugging a beer down as your pre-workout.

Study Two

A second study, very similar in nature gave 10 female subjects the equivalent amount of alcohol to 5 drinks worth.  Each subject was given two training regimes, one for each arm which were spaced 10 days apart.  Alcohol was given for one of them and a non-alcoholic drink was given for the other training regime.  Again to my surprise, there wasn’t any difference in muscle soreness, stiffness or strength recorded after both the alcohol and non-alcohol-induced workouts were followed.

Study Three

This study showed that after endurance athletes depleted their stores, glycogen replenishment wasn’t interfered with by alcohol.  They were given the equivalent amount of alcohol to 10 drinks after a glycogen-depleting training session and there was zero lag in glycogen resynthesis after 24 hours.

If we look at this in relation to athletes who compete and may have more then one event in the same day or trials on one day followed by the finals the next, this is especially important.

As you could imagine if a fine-tuned athlete has any kind of interference to their recovery, it could mean the difference between taking home the winners trophy or the runners up trophy.  And whoever remembers second place hey.

At least for any athlete who loses their mind for a second and chugs down a load of alcohol after an event knowing they have to compete again the next day will be safe in the knowledge they should still be able to store enough energy to get through it.


Dehydration Is The Enemy: Don’t Store Alcohol For Use As Energy

Athlete drinking a glass of water on a hot day to stay hydrated

Two studies were done looking into the effect alcohol can have on dehydration in athletes.  So any of you athletes out there who like to get smashed the night before a big sporting event, it’s important to note the greater concentrated the source of alcohol is, the more dehydrated you will become.

Study one showed that urine output was increased for anyone consuming drinks that contained 4% alcohol or more

Study two showed that much harder liquor has a substantially greater effect on dehydration.  A one-ounce 80-proof drink will contain 15 mills of water and 10 mills of ethanol so 25 mills in total.  However, the subjects of the study showed them urinating almost for times as much as they put in.

It’s endurance athletes that seem to suffer way more though.  A study done on rugby players showed that after a night of binge drinking endurance work (aerobic) suffered quite a bit were more high intensity (anaerobic) performance wasn’t affected at all.

So in simple terms.  don’t become an endurance athlete if you enjoy getting hammered with your mates.


Alcohol Effects On Muscle Key Takeaways

  1. Alcohol is definitely not essential for improving or maintaining good health.  Although alcohol in small doses has been shown to have some health benefits, in excessive amounts it can cause heart failure, liver disease and addiction.
  2. Consuming alcohol will not help you improve strength, muscle mass or athletic performance.  However, having a couple of drinks a night is unlikely to affect performance either.
  3. Alcohol will 100% increase dehydration.
  4. The more concentrated the drink the more dehydrated you will become
  5. Due to there not being any real health benefits to alcohol, I would suggest if you don’t drink already then there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to start now
  6. Drinking of any kind will affect endurance athletes more than us muscle heads lifting weights in the gym.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article here at BFG Muscle.  What’s your take on alcohol and the effects it has on building muscle and strength? Have any other question?  Please don’t hesitate to comment below.

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