Get the facts on how alcohol can impact your build.
Sharon Liao 1 / 7
You Booze, You Lose
We get it: Sometimes you need a stiff drink. But before you belly up to the bar, keep in mind that boozing it up may undo that hard work you put in at the gym. Research reveals that alcohol can interfere with your muscle growth, as well as slow your post-exercise recovery process.
And research published in the journal Addiction found that when young people drink with a large party of friends, they consume more alcoholic beverages per hour (as opposed to drinking with someone one-on-one), Reutersreports. Men average about 2.5 drinks per hour between 11PM and midnight on Saturdays, while women average 1.9.
So how can you enjoy that bourbon or brew—without contributing to a beer belly? Get the facts on how booze can impact your build.
Preliminary research shows that alcohol can impair protein synthesis, or the process that builds new muscle. In research done on rats published in the American Journal of Physiology, alcohol consumption was associated with a decrease in muscle weight and lean body mass. The researchers explain that alcohol may affect the proteins that activate muscle growth.
What’s more, a separate study from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine found that alcohol decreased the production of human growth hormone, a key part of the muscle repair and growth process, by up to 70%. Experts note that both of these studies were done with a large amount of alcohol administered to animals, so a few drinks may not have the same effect.
Bouncing back from that workout may take longer if you go crazy at happy hour afterward. Scientists from Massey University in New Zealand found that those who downed 1 gram of alcohol per kilogram—about five drinks for a 160-pound man—after a weightlifting session experienced more soreness than those who drank juice. They also had higher levels of creatine kinase, an enzyme that signals tissue damage, afterward.
Your body prefers to burn alcohol as fuel first, pushing any other calories to the back of the line. As a result, your fat burn slows dramatically each time you toss back a cocktail. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming 24 grams of alcohol—the equivalent of about two drinks—slowed fat metabolism by a whopping 73%.
Even the strongest physiques can look flabby if covered in a layer of fat. And drinking regularly is one of the fastest paths to weight gain. Alcohol packs 7 calories per gram, or roughly 100 to 165 calories in a serving—and that’s not counting sugary mixers.
“It can also loosen up your inhibitions and stimulate your appetite, which encourages overeating,” says Sharon Richter, R.D., a dietitian in New York City. According to research from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men consumed 168 more calories on the days they had a drink than when they didn’t. Although that doesn’t sound like much, it can add up: Having a glass of wine or beer with dinner three days of the week, and you’ll wind up nearly eight pounds heavier at the end of the year.
Although a cold beer seems thirst quenching after a hard workout, it has the opposite effect. Because alcohol is a diuretic, it can lead to dehydration: It causes your body to lose three percent more body fluid, shows a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. So avoid that post-workout beer until you’ve replenished with water: Not having enough fluid can decrease blood flow to the muscles, which can slow down your recovery.
Sure, having a head-pounding hangover can take a toll on your next-day activities. But drinking can also affect your performance in less obvious ways: Drinking has also been shown to interfere with your sleep quality, which can further contribute to an overall feeling of sluggishness and cause you to slack off during your workout.
But that doesn’t mean you need to turn into a teetotaler: Researchers from the University of Florida found that a moderate amount of alcohol, or about two drinks, doesn’t affect exercise performance. So, go ahead, have a drink—but think twice before ordering another round.