Alcohol & Muscle Growth

Well we’re less than two weeks from Christmas.

And that means the parties, dinners and celebrations will be in full effect.

Typically we consider the extra calories and sugar during Christmas. But what about the alcohol?

How Bad Is Alcohol For You?

A colleague with the NBA Hawks, Marie Spano, MS, CSCS, RD, CSSD, shared something on her social media. And I’ve going to share it with you as well.

Alcohol interferes with muscle growth, especially in type II muscle fibers. These are your explosive force-generating muscle fibers 🏋🏾‍♂️that help you sprint, jump and lift weights.

In one study, 1.5 g/kg bodyweight (this is 5-6 glasses of beer for a 155 lb. man; I show you how to calculate this below) consumed after exercise reduced the synthesis of protein in muscle by 37%. When protein (25 grams post exercise and again 4 hours later) was consumed along with alcohol the reduction in muscle protein synthesis was 24%.

How Does Alcohol Wreck Your Gains?
Alcohol interrupts the transcription of genes involved in muscle growth by impairing IGF-1 signaling and in men but not women, mTOR signaling. Note: alcohol still reduces muscle protein synthesis in women though mTOR signaling is not impaired.

Drinking alcohol after resistance training or a game decreases testosterone concentration and bioavailability in men but not women. Studies consistently show an alcohol intake > 1.5 g/kg lowers testosterone in men. 😳 Also, long-term alcohol use decreases the androgen receptor, so even if you have a lot of testosterone circulating, there’s a decrease in your body’s ability to use testosterone.

How to Figure Out the Grams of Alcohol in a Drink

1 – Multiple the oz in the drink by the alcohol content. A 12 oz. beer with 6% alcohol has 0.72 oz. of alcohol. Multiple alcohol fluid oz. x 29.57 to get the grams of alcohol. In this example, 0.72 x 29.57 = 21.29 grams per drink.

2 – Take weight in lbs. divided by 2.2 to get weight in kg. Then multiply this by 1.5 to find out how many grams of alcohol one would need to drink to lower testosterone.

Chris here again…

So this is pretty alarming.

First of all, a 37% reduction in protein synthesis is no joke. Anyone who has trained for a while with the goal of adding lean mass knows how hard it is to add a few pounds of lean muscle. Alcohol can quickly reduce these gains.

The other point that is concerning is the fact that long term alcohol consumption reduces the androgen receptor for testosterone. So even with high levels of circulating testosterone you may not be able to make use of it all.

Extra Caution for Those Older Than 25 Years

For men our testosterone production peaks around our mid-twenties and then declines gradually for the rest of our lives. As well, protein needs are much higher for seniors to off-set sarcopenia or the loss of muscle mass. So an older person that drinks regularly is really stacking the deck against themselves when we consider how alcohol makes it harder to build muscle.

Going forward if you enjoy a cocktail or two consider the effects this will have on your ability to build muscle. Consider drinks with lower alcohol concentration and bump up your protein intake at this time as well. And if you’re up for it you could pick some milk thistle and supplement with that as well.

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2013;45(9):1825-32.
Nutr Metab 2014;11:26.
JSCR 2017;31(1):54-61.

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