This is another question I get, usually from young lads. Does alcohol affect muscle growth? The short answer is yes, it does. But, how much does it affect things and does the dose of alcohol matter?
So yes the dose of alcohol does affect things. Also, the rate at which muscle growth is affected depends on lots of factors. So I’ll outline those factors, are the doses of alcohol that affects things and what you do going forward.
Consumption of alcohol depending on the volume, will affect these factors, which can influence muscle growth:
- Muscle protein synthesis
- Testosterone production
- Nutrient absorption
- Training performance
Muscle protein synthesis
In short, muscle protein synthesis is the rate at which your body uses the protein you’ve consumed to build muscle tissue. However, your body is also breaking down muscle tissue, (muscle protein breakdown). For muscle growth to occur muscle protein synthesis needs to be happening at a greater rate than muscle protein breakdown.
This study compared the rates of muscle protein synthesis, with 4 different factors. (1)
- Control group
- Training and alcohol
- Training, alcohol and protein
- Training and protein
This study was trying to mimic sporting culture, where binge drinking after a game, is expected.
Therefore, after the training, the alcohol groups would consume 10-14 alcoholic drinks (depending on body weight). The groups which consumed protein would consume whey protein, which was 25g worth of protein.
What did this study show?
- The control group who did nothing had the lowest rate of muscle protein synthesis
- The training and alcohol group has the second-lowest rate of muscle protein synthesis
- The alcohol, training and protein group had the next highest muscle protein synthesis
- The training and protein group had the significantly highest rate of muscle protein synthesis
This study showed that binge drinking will affect muscle protein synthesis. But, it does show that training and eating protein after, regardless of alcohol consumption is still better than doing nothing. How would this fair with moderate drinking, I don’t know for certain, but I’m sure it’d be a lot less damaging than a 10 drink binge.
If I’d take anything from this, it would be; keep drinking away from training days. And avoid bingeing as often as you can.
One thing to note, however. There does seem to be some evidence that alcohol doesn’t affect women in the same way as men. (2) The evidence from this study suggests, women recover far better than men.
Muscle growth happens more frequently when the body has more testosterone. That’s why teenagers are better able to build muscle compared to older guys. At that age your teatsrosrone is through the roof. This is another reason men are better able to build muscle compared to women.
Therefore it only makes sense to see what effects alcohol has on testosterone.
A clinical review of over 50 studies showed that alcohol consumption was associated with decreased levels of testosterone and increased levels of cortisol.
When testosterone is low in the blood, muscle protein synthesis also decreases.
This paper showed that an ethanol dosage of 1.5mg per kg of body weight decreased blood testosterone levels. This translates to about 5-6 glasses of beer for a 70kg man. (3)
Though it’s person dependent, you want to keep your alcohol intake below 5-6 drinks if you don’t want to decrease testosterone levels and inhibit muscle protein synthesis.
As again, I’m sure with moderate drinking you’d be fine. But as for excessive alcohol, you won’t be doing yourself any favours.
Alcohol inhibits the bodies ability to break down the nutrients in the food, you’ve eaten. Usually, after you’ve eaten the pancreas secretes enzymes, which breaks down food into usable molecules. But when you drink alcohol, inhibits the pancreases ability to do so.
Alcohol can also limit the absoprions of nutrients bt damaging the stomach and intestine cell lining.
Finally, alcohol can limit the number of nutrients that can be transported into the blood, which would then be taken to parts of the body, which require them. (4)
The vitamins most affected by alcohol use are A,C,D,E,K & B.
This is important. Though vitamins don’t contribute to muscle protein synthesis. They help in other ways. For instance:
- Vitamin B – helps release energy from food. This helps fuel your workouts. the better your workouts, the more you can progressively overload. This means you can increase volume. This will build more muscle over the long term.
- Vitamin C – Contributes towards strong bones, which makes everyday movement easier. It also makes weight training a lot easier.
- Vitamin D – Like vitamin C, vitamin D keeps bones healthy. It also essential for muscle and teeth health.
- Vitamin K – Vital for blood clotting, healing wounds and might contribute towards healthy bones.
Though these vitamins, might not directly contribute towards muscle protein synthesis. They do do contributive backhandedly.
The amount of which you consume alcohol may have an effect on performance.
For instance, a 2020 study, known as the BEER-HIIT study showed that daily moderate beer intake had no significant difference in performance or fitness in participants. (5)
A group of 73, 18-30 year olds (35 being female), were split in 5 groups.
- 1 control group (No HIIT and no alcohol)
- Beer (5.4%) and HIIT
- Vodka water (5.4%) and HIIT
- Non-alchol beer and HIIT
- Sparkling water and HIIT
Men consumed 330ml of drink with lunch and one with dinner. Women had one with dinner.
At the end, all training groups improved fitness and strength.
A moderate beer or alcohol intake does not mitigate the positive effect of a 10-week HIIT on physical fitness in young healthy adults.Molina Hidalgo, et al 2020
This study demonstrates, drinking in moderation will cause next to no trouble with your performance. But an emphasis on moderation. This study might also show consuming a small alcoholic drink with a meal might also be helpful.
I struggled to find a study on strength performance after a bout of drinking, but after some digging I found one.
This was a 2015 study done on Rugby players. Though it’s not based on lifting weights after drinking, rugby players need to exert plenty of power, so the results should transcend into weight training.
In this study 19, rugby players had various rugby performances tested 2 days before and 2 days after a bout of heavy drinking. All the participants consumed 6-20 drinks during their drinking bout. Which is standard for a lot of guys during the weekend.
Their countermovement jump was recorded before and after drinking. The countermovement jump was significantly worse the day after drinking in the participants.
This, therefore suggests there may be a case that power output, would be worse after drinking when weight lifting to build muscle.
So, when it comes to performance. Keep things simple. If you want to have a drink with your meal or just a small drink every day, you should be fine. However, if you plan to have a binge, you’ll probably be doing yourself a disservice.
There’s a correlation between people that drink heavily and having less than enough sleep.
A study in 2012, had 301 men and 402 women aged 18-64, fill out food records and sleep diaries. What was noted was that those who slept less than 6 hours a night, consumed a significantly higher amount of alcohol than those who slept over 7 hours.
The people who slept the fewest hours were the ones, most likely to exceed the weekly recommended units of drink. In this case over 14 drinks for men and 7 for women. This occurred mostly in men who binge drunk (5 or more drinks in one night). (6)
The amount people drink varies. Therefore I found a study that compared different alcohol intakes on sleep quality. I was curious to see if low or moderate intakes, would also sleep quality.
Interestingly this study showed low and moderate intakes, disrupt sleep quality. Obviously the higher the intake the worse the sleep quality. (7)
So why is sleep duration important, when it comes to muscle building? Theres 2 reasons why.
- Improved muscle protein synthesis
- Better workouts
Muscle protein synthesis
When sleep is disrupted, muscle protein synthesis will be disrupted.
Poor muscle health 15-30% more prevalent than those who have poor sleep quality. In 2020 a study analysed 13 young guys and girls. They were measure after a night of total sleep deprivation and after a night of normal sleep.
Cortisol was higher when sleep-deprived, testosterone was lower and the rates of muscle protein synthesis were lower.
The study explained, that it believes a lack of sleep disrupts the muscle-building hormones. This means if you’re eating in a calorie surplus there’s a risk those extra calories could be going to fat stores instead of muscle. Thus rendering your hard work. (8)
It’s said to have an optimal workout, you need to have adequate sleep.
A 2018 systematic review looked at 17 different studies to see if strength in weight training was affected by a lack of sleep. What the paper concluded was, after analysing 17 studies. Isolation movements weren’t affected. But compound movements were affected by sleep deprivation.
As most training programmes include mostly compound exercise, sleep is something you want to make sure you don’t get a lack of. Otherwise, you may struggle to progressively get stronger. (9)
Does alchol affect muscle growth? The short answer is yes.
How badly does alcohol affect muscle growth? Well, it depends on the dosage. It seems that small to moderate amounts have very little effect on muscle growth. Whereas large dosages have a blatant negative effect on muscle growth.
Does this mean youd be better off not drinking at all?
This is tough. Though I do not drink myself, I could be biased and say yes, not drinking at all is definitely the better outcome. However if you really enjoy a drink and know you can moderate it. It may be better than not drinking at all. We know that adherence is better than following the optimal plan. If having a drink means you will stick to the plan in the long term, it’s better to progress at let’s say 90& of your potential compared to being optimal but quitting because you hated not drinking.
Therefore it’s your decision. Definitely avoid binge drinking if you can, as that will hamper progress. If you happen to anyway. Just pick yourself up and get back on it. But if you can limit your drinking, you will repa the benefits in the long run.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.