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How does alcohol affect my muscle growth goals?

Posted by Bulk Nutrients in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 4mins

How does alcohol affect my muscle growth goals?

Alcohol and men's muscle gains

As with most things, the dose of alcohol determines how bad it is for your muscle growth.

Beginning with men, and testosterone is obviously good for muscle growth. It signals to myocytes (muscle cells) to grow.

But alcohol is NOT good for testosterone; toxic for the cells that produce testosterone in the testicles. And those who abuse alcohol long-term can hinder the production of testosterone from the testicles in general.

So how much are we talking?

Well, 1-3 drinks will actually cause a man's testosterone to increase. And that's not the end of the world for their muscle gains at all; research shows this doesn't affect the recovery of even very taxing muscle building workouts.

But after 4 drinks is when the problems can start.

A man having 4-8 drinks of his favourite alcoholic beverage can result in an 18-40% reduction in testosterone. But after 24 hours, they should be back to normal.

So that's a day of less testosterone. But, if a man was planning on competing in the natural Mr Olympia, well, he wouldn't want a drop of alcohol at all!

But if the health and fitness lifestyle is about moderation, balance, and all-around wellbeing, then this is perfectly acceptable (though we'd always recommend men consume closer to the lower end of this range).

Professional male athletes and bodybuilders are better to have 1-3 drinks only in one sitting, with 0 alcohol likely to be better.
Professional male athletes and bodybuilders are better to have 1-3 drinks only in one sitting, with 0 alcohol likely to be better.

How does a big night out drinking affect muscle growth?

Well, this is where things can get pretty ugly.

More than 9 glasses of alcohol can lower male testosterone levels by 45%, and they can remain decreased by up to 23% the day after!

And what does that look like for muscle growth?

Well, research has found that 9 glasses of alcohol after training can decrease muscle protein synthesis by a whopping 24%.

So a male can go and train as hard as he likes, but if he goes and has a big night out with 9 plus drinks, he'll grow 24% less muscle.

So that workout will still be somewhat useful, but obviously not as good as if he stayed sober.

One review into alcohol concluded:

"...levels of cortisol (stress hormone) were increased, and levels testosterone and rates of muscle protein synthesis were decreased, which indicates that long term muscular adaptations could be impaired if alcohol consumption during recovery is consistent."

In other words, a big night out with friends once a month hinders his workout from that day significantly. But if that's only a handful of times a year, it's probably not going to be noticeable.

But if it's consistent, then gains will be severely hindered; not to mention the production of testosterone which we touched on at the beginning.

Alcohol might not be as detrimental to women's muscle growth and recovery as much as men!
Alcohol might not be as detrimental to women's muscle growth and recovery as much as men!

How alcohol affects women's muscle growth

Let's face it, women have it tough with hormonal changes and menstrual cycles that make exercise and ideal body composition much harder than it is for their male counterparts!

But women might have the leg up here in terms of how alcohol affects muscle growth!

This study found that several shots of vodka right after a workout decreased muscle growth signalling in males, but not females!

And get this: it doesn't seem to affect a females recovery after training, either! This study discovered that up to 6 drinks of alcohol after training didn't hinder a woman's recovery as much as men.

And it's only fair with all the other hardships women have to put up with!

The bottom line

Alcohol isn't a death sentence for muscle growth, with its effects actually being quite mild. But long term abuse certainly is severely detrimental.

For men, 1-3 drinks are fine. But 4-8 drinks can result in a testosterone decrease of 18-40%, and given testosterone vital role in muscle growth, this isn't ideal. But 24 hours later you'll be back to baseline. However, more than 9 drinks will lower testosterone levels by 45%, where they might remain lowered by up to 23% the day after. This will decrease muscle protein synthesis by a whopping 24% and isn't advised.

For women, up to 6 drinks doesn't hinder recovery, and alcohol consumption for women looking to grow muscle seems to be fairly insignificant.

References:

  1. White JP, Gao S, Puppa MJ, Sato S, Welle SL, Carson JA. Testosterone regulation of Akt/mTORC1/FoxO3a signaling in skeletal muscle. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2013;365(2):174-186. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2012.10.019
  2. Van Thiel DH, Lester R. The effect of chronic alcohol abuse on sexual function. Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1979 Nov;8(3):499-510. doi: 10.1016/s0300-595x(79)80028-6. PMID: 389488.
  3. Maneesh M, Dutta S, Chakrabarti A, Vasudevan DM. Alcohol abuse-duration dependent decrease in plasma testosterone and antioxidants in males. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Jul-Sep;50(3):291-6. PMID: 17193902.
  4. Sarkola T, Eriksson CJ. Testosterone increases in men after a low dose of alcohol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2003 Apr;27(4):682-5. doi: 10.1097/01.ALC.0000060526.43976.68. PMID: 12711931.
  5. Vingren JL, Hill DW, Buddhadev H, Duplanty A. Postresistance exercise ethanol ingestion and acute testosterone bioavailability. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Sep;45(9):1825-32. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31828d3767. PMID: 23470309.
  6. Vatsalya V, Issa JE, Hommer DW, Ramchandani VA. Pharmacodynamic effects of intravenous alcohol on hepatic and gonadal hormones: influence of age and sex. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012 Feb;36(2):207-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01600.x. Epub 2011 Jul 28. PMID: 21797891; PMCID: PMC3258349.
  7. Barnes MJ, Mundel T, Stannard SR. The effects of acute alcohol consumption on recovery from a simulated rugby match. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(3):295-304. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.637949. Epub 2011 Dec 15. PMID: 22168345.
  8. Frias J, Torres JM, Miranda MT, Ruiz E, Ortega E. Effects of acute alcohol intoxication on pituitary-gonadal axis hormones, pituitary-adrenal axis hormones, beta-endorphin and prolactin in human adults of both sexes. Alcohol Alcohol. 2002 Mar-Apr;37(2):169-73. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/37.2.169. PMID: 11912073.
  9. Välimäki M, Tuominen JA, Huhtaniemi I, Ylikahri R. The pulsatile secretion of gonadotropins and growth hormone, and the biological activity of luteinizing hormone in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1990 Dec;14(6):928-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.1990.tb01840.x. PMID: 2128439.
  10. Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, 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. Published 2014 Feb 12. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088384
  11. Lakińáevińá, N. The Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Recovery Following Resistance Exercise: A Systematic Review. J. Funct. Morphol. Kinesiol. 2019, 4, 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk4030041
  12. Duplanty AA, Budnar RG, Luk HY, Levitt DE, Hill DW, McFarlin BK, Huggett DB, Vingren JL. Effect of Acute Alcohol Ingestion on Resistance Exercise-Induced mTORC1 Signaling in Human Muscle. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jan;31(1):54-61. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001468. PMID: 27135475.
  13. Levitt DE, Luk HY, Duplanty AA, McFarlin BK, Hill DW, Vingren JL. Effect of alcohol after muscle-damaging resistance exercise on muscular performance recovery and inflammatory capacity in women. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017 Jun;117(6):1195-1206. doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3606-0. Epub 2017 Apr 6. PMID: 28386694.
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