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While it may not be as common today, there is certainly a culture in some team sports of consumption of large amounts of alcohol after training/competition. But until recently, it was not clear just what effect such a practice has on muscle recovery. That’s what makes the findings of the recent publication in the February 2014 issue of PLoS One journal particularly intriguing.

In order to answer the question of how large amounts of alcohol ingestion affect muscle protein synthesis in response to exercise, researchers recruited 8 males participating in regular concurrent resistance and endurance training (~3×/week) for greater than 1 year. After a solid exercise session that included a combination of weight training, high intensity exercise and cotinuous aerobic exercise, the subjects were given a variety of recovery mixes immediately after and 4 hours post-exercise. These consisted of either 500 mL of whey protein (25g), alcohol (1.5 g·kg body mass⁻¹) co-ingested with 25g of whey protein, or an energy-matched quantity of carbohydrate also with alcohol. Subjects also consumed a CHO meal (1.5 g CHO/kg/body mass) 2 h post-exercise.

As expected, subjects receiving only protein post-exercise showed enhanced muscle protein synthesis 2 hours after the exercise session. The alcohol-protein and alcohol-carbohydrate groups also showed heightened muscle protein synthesis, albeit much lower than the protein-only group. More specifically, the alcohol-protein group showed a reduction in muscle protein synthesis of 24%, while the alcohol-carbohydrate group showed a slightly higher reduction of 37%.

In summary, the main take away from this landmark study is that high amounts of alcohol ingestion post-exercise significantly suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle, which can invariably impair recovery and adaptation to training and/or subsequent performance. So by all means, enjoy a drink or two after a big match or race, but be aware that it may diminish the usual training benefits and limit recovery.

Parr EB, et al. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One. 2014;9(2):e88384.

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