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How Alcohol Intake Affects Muscle Gains

The ideal bodybuilder eats a strict diet, ensures he gets adequate rest, stays hydrated, trains, and tries to stay healthy. Unfortunately, at the end of the week or during times of celebration such as New Years, Christmas and birthdays, this regimen is often overlooked, and excessive alcohol consumption creeps in. What effect does this have on your bodybuilding progress?

1. Empty Calories

Alcohol doesn't have many nutrients, but what it does have is energy. And lots of it - at almost 7 calories or 30 kilojoules per gram. The average schooner of full strength beer has 162 calories or 684 kilojoules. If you’re trying to lose fat, this is a major consideration as an average night out drinking could add almost 500 calories or 200 kilojoules to your daily calorie intake, almost a quarter of the recommended daily energy intake. Compounding onto this is the fact that during periods of heavy drinking, food intake decreases leading to possible deficiencies in essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. This can all affect your health and your ability to work out effectively.

2. Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic. This means that it causes you to urinate more and more often. This leads to dehydration which can affect your ability to work out. The more frequent urination can also cause increase losses of water soluble minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and potassium. Loss of zinc is especially important as it is a key factor in production of growth hormone, while some of the other minerals such as calcium and potassium are required for muscle contraction and relaxation. Dehydration will cause you to fatigue faster and feel it more intensely which will all lead to a poorer performance in the gym.

3. Alcohol Lowers Testosterone & Increases Estrogen

Acute alcohol intoxication results in a reduction of testosterone produced from Leydig cells.1 Lower levels of testosterone inhibit our ability to put on muscle . Furthermore alcohol has been shown to causes a faster aromatisation of androgens (such as testosterone) into oestrogensn.2 This would explain why heavy drinkers can get gynecomastia (bitch tits).

4. Protein Synthesis

The more efficiently you can synthesise protein, the better your muscle growth will be. Alcohol impedes this due to the inability of the liver to synthesise proteins while it is digesting the alcohol. In fact, protein synthesis can decrease by between 20-40%.3

Excess Alcohol & Bodybuilding Don't Mix

The effects of excessive alcohol consumption can be dire for a bodybuilder. The consumption of alcohol in lieu of healthy meals, combined with the post-hangover sleep ins, can lead to a significantly depleted diet. If you do intend to drink, try to limit your consumption, say to a beer an hour, and a maximum of two to four standard drink a night on a single occasion or no more than two standard drinks per day.4 Remember these figures represent the guidelines for the average Australian. As bodybuilding has different demands related to physique, this figure might still be high and detrimental for muscular gains. Having said that, don’t feel you can’t have fun living a bodybuilding lifestyle, just try to keep your alcohol consumption in moderation so that you don’t disrupt the gains you are striving for.

1 MATTIHÄRKÖNEN, 'ETHANOL-INDUCED INHIBITION OF TESTOSTERONE BIOSYNTHESIS IN RAT LEYDIG CELLS: ROLE OF MITOCHONDRIAL SUBSTRATE SHU1TLES AND CITRATE' Alcohol and Alcoholism (1990) 25(5): 499-507
2 Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. Jose Antonio, Douglas Kalman, Jeffrey R Stout, Mike Greenwood, Darryn S Willougby and G Gregory Haff. Human Press 2008 p. 64
3 Karinch AM, Martin AH and Vary TC. 'Acute and chronic ethanol consumption differentially impact pathways limiting hepatic protein synthesis.' AJP - Endo July 2008 vol. 295 no. 1 E3-E9
4 National Health and Medical Research Council. 'Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks From Drinking Alcohol.' 2009

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