This blog is written from a Barcelona restaurant on Las Ramblas. I am enjoying a beer while contemplating the balance of bodybuilding intense work and indulgence every now and again. The hard part is the training sessions. They are the highlight of my day, and they provide a great mental break. The hardest part of my day, and the one I need to take a mental break, is my behavior throughout the day. Training sessions stimulate muscle growth but recovery is what really makes a difference. This is what must be optimized if you want to have great bodybuilding results. To do this, you need to take into account a number of factors, including nutrition, hormone balance, stress, sleep, and even hormone balance. Healthy eating is easy for me. This is due to a mental shift in my perception of food. But that’s another topic.
What about alcohol? What about alcohol? Do we have to make a choice between drinking with friends or putting our bodies first? Every time I drink, I feel guilty. It is a problem that I feel guilty about. So I did some research to see if these fears were justified. You may be surprised at what I discovered.
Before I begin, I’d like to mention that Jeff Nippard’s YouTube video on alcohol and how it affects muscle protein synthesis was a huge inspiration. Jeff’s YouTube channel is a great resource for information on a variety of bodybuilding topics. I highly recommend you visit him.
Let’s begin by looking at how alcohol affects the brain. It is interesting to note that alcohol is absorbed faster by the small intestine that any other nutrient. This means that it quickly enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain. It intoxicates the cerebral cortex, responsible for rational thinking, once it reaches the brain. The limbic system becomes inebriated and takes over rational thought and decision-making. This is problematic because the limbic is responsible for emotions. This means that bodybuilding suffers from impaired decision-making when one is drunk. It can lead to the worst outcome of alcohol consumption: Drunkenness. A lean body would not be able to eat 800 calories of fried chicken at night. This can be avoided by simply being aware of the effects alcohol has on our brains, and making conscious efforts to avoid them. Although it may seem obvious, understanding the reasons behind our impulses is key to controlling them and not giving up.
Let’s now look at how alcohol affects our bodies. Alcohol is an obvious source of calories. It has 7.1 calories per gram (second only to fats) and, in the case beer, carbs. A single night of excessive drinking can cause a severe caloric deficit and ruin your whole week. One shot can have up to 100 calories, while a beer can range from 100 to 400 calories. Cocktails are even more expensive. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and include these calories in your daily diet. This means that you should eat less the day before you drink. This does not mean that you should drink on empty stomachs. You can get too drunk and put your health at risk.
Alcohol has a unique effect upon metabolism, in addition to its caloric effects. The liver is subject to so much stress that the rate of glycogen production (metabolized carbohydrate), is dramatically reduced. Glycogen, the primary source of energy in most body functions and the only source for energy necessary for brain function, is the sole source of energy. Glycogen is not converted to energy and stored as fat. Alcohol can build up in the body for as long as 48 hours after you stop drinking. This is why it is important to avoid eating poor food when you are drunk. Even a hangover cure breakfast of pancakes and greasy sausage will make you feel worse than normal. It is also worth noting that your brain will not function as well if there is less glycogen. This can lead to a feeling of fatigue, mental slowness, and lack of motivation the next day.
The key takeaway: Alcohol can make you eat poorly and reduce your metabolism, making the food you eat even more harmful. It is possible to avoid this by being aware of it and making conscious efforts to manage your food choices when you drink.
You probably noticed that you use the toilet a lot after drinking. This is not because you drink a lot. Your body is actually removing a lot of water. Your body’s digestive system, including your stomach and kidneys, is under such stress that it redirects a lot of water to these areas. You can become very dehydrated as a result. This is why you might appear slimmer the next morning after drinking. It’s not that you aren’t dehydrated. There are many negative effects of dehydration on training and recovery, including decreased energy, endurance, strength, and digestion.
Now that we have seen the effects of alcohol consumption on the body in a number of areas, including brain function, nutrition and metabolism, and how they can impact our training, let us get to the things we care about. Alcohol and gains have a complex relationship.
The main player in muscle growth is testosterone. However, alcohol consumption dramatically reduces testosterone production. It actually raises estrogen, the female sexhormone. A night out can cause two key testosterone levels to move in the wrong direction. Binge drinking is the only exception to this. A couple of drinks can cause a drop in testosterone of around 5% in men. However, this number jumps to about 23% if you have 8-10 drinks. This means that heavy drinking can have serious consequences on your recovery.
Let’s now get to the important part: how alcohol affects muscle growth. We must first understand the mechanism of muscle growth. Muscle Protein Synthesis or MPS (muscle protein breakdown) are two factors that play a part in muscle growth. The first is performed throughout the day, while the second takes place in the gym. Although the goal is to have more MPS and less MPB, MPB is essential to stimulate MPS. We exercise, then we break down our muscles catabolically and then rebuild them anabolically during our recovery. Alcohol can hinder MPS by 33%. This can be especially damaging right after a workout. This is known as alcoholic myopathy. This is where you are causing muscle damage during a workout and the alcohol prevents you from growing them again. This could lead to muscle loss.
This MPS loss can be reduced by drinking a protein shake immediately or while you are still drunk. Although not ideal, it is better than nothing!
Alcohol seems to be a poor choice for gains. Realistically, we won’t give up alcohol completely to see some slight improvements in our muscle development and physique. Here are 10 ways to decrease the negative effects of alcohol on training and recovery.
- Avoid alcohol, including beer, and sugary drinks/chases.
- A weekly limit of one drink per week is fine, but more can be detrimental.
- Instead, skip the workout. You’re only doing MPB, and then you’re missing out on the MPS.
- You will experience exponentially more effects from binging than you would from casual drinking.
It is clear that there is much information available to suggest that we should completely cut out alcohol from our diet if we want optimal training and recovery. Is this feasible for most people?
No. This is not necessary unless you are training for a competition or photo shoot. These 10 guidelines should suffice to reduce the most harmful effects of alcohol on bodybuilders. It’s up to the individual to decide how much they want to live a healthy lifestyle while still pursuing bodybuilding. However, I must admit that I gave my beer to the men at the table beside me while I was writing this article. It’s easy to forget about those random drinks and cut them out. Cheers guys!