We all love the occasional drink, but what does alcohol actually do to your bodybuilding goals?
With the holidays fast approaching, that time to kick back and unwind with family and friends is something we all look forward to. With that comes laughing, eating, remembering the good old times and, of course, some drinking. But for those of us looking to advance our bodybuilding goals, it is important to know what alcohol can do to our training.
Of course, anything in moderation is going to be fine for you. Well, not everything, but you know what we mean. This is especially true when it comes to food because these holidays tend to see big feasts, a plethora of delicious food laid before us, forcing us to want to eat everything. When it comes to alcohol and our consumption of it, it is wise for us to truly know what alcohol does to the body and what repercussions it can have on our overall goals of health and fitness.
With that said, enjoy the occasional drink or two with family and friends because we all know this year has been wild. But you’ve put in a lot of work and its time to continue seeing growth through the holidays. While temptation may be there, you have plenty of discipline to steer clear of falling into bad habits.
How Alcohol Works In The Body
Alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine and the rate at which it is absorbed depends on several factors including biological sex, the alcohol percentage, and how full your stomach is (1). After absorption, alcohol enters the bloodstream and dissolves in your blood, then is carried throughout the body into your tissues where it then begins its effects. It will leave the body through the kidneys or liver with the help of certain enzymes as it is broken down into carbon dioxide and water.
When it comes to affecting your brain, alcohol alters the levels of neurotransmitters that control certain processes like behavior and emotion. While it suppresses many, it increases the release of dopamine, making you think you feel great (2), but this is a trick. As you continue to drink since you “feel good”, you are actually altering other brain chemicals so you start raising certain negative feelings, like depression. All in all, alcohol plays games with your mind but of course this is something to be cautious of because we all know how it feels the next morning.
Negative Effects On Bodybuilding & Performance
Increase Weight Gain
Alcohol contains many calories with really no nutritional value. As someone looking to enhance bodybuilding goals and focus heavily on your intake of macronutrients and the proper ratio, alcohol is certainly something that can throw that off. While there are many things that are high in calories, remember that alcohol doesn’t offer any nutritional benefits. It can also mess with your metabolism because instead of burning fat and sugar, your metabolism seeks to burn alcohol first, leaving room for excess to be stored (3).
Testosterone is a great fat burner but alcohol can hinder this process and instead of being broken down to fat, it is converted to acetate which can prevent fat loss (4). Alcohol also damages Leydig cells which produce and secrete testosterone. Since drinking alcohol releases endorphins that bring you pleasure and relaxation, they can also interfere with testosterone synthesis and alcohol can also increase the conversion of testosterone in estrogen.
Hurt Protein Synthesis
Protein synthesis is the process of establishing new muscle growth and alcohol can have negative effects on the body’s natural production of human growth hormone which produces positive gains. If you don’t consume enough protein, a staple for the development of muscle growth, your body can be put into a catabolic state, something alcohol can induce as well. Due to the high calorie count, this can disrupt your regular body processes and hurt protein synthesis (5).
Promote Poor Sleep
Alcohol can negatively affect sleep which is the most important time for your body to recover. By affecting the quality of a good night’s sleep, especially after a grueling workout, you can mess with REM sleep, the most important and effective time of your resting state, leading to poor recovery and not giving your muscles a chance to repair (6).
Tips For Drinking Without Affecting Gains
When coming into this holiday season, don’t be alarmed. These negative affects exist but everything in excess has negative affects on our bodies. It is important to know the impact alcohol has on your body, but it is also important to have fun and enjoy these moments with loved ones. Some of these tips may be very helpful in allowing you to enjoy yourself without falling victim to unfortunate effects of alcohol.
- Stay away from high calorie drinks: Avoid anything with excess sugar and artificial additives like cocktails. Look into liquor and spirits and the occasional beer if that is your thing.
- Don’t drink before exercise: Your output will be seriously diminished and who wants to work out after drinking! Save it for after when you can relax.
- Hydrate: If you are going to drink, hydrate and keep that water intake going as best you can to counter any negative affects.
- Eat something hearty: Be sure to have your stomach full and not be drinking on an empty stomach.
The holidays are an exciting time. Getting together with loved ones is always a fun time and alcohol is sure to join the party. Don’t let your bodybuilding goals suffer just because this can be a crazy time. Still enjoy yourself but in moderation. Knowing the negative effects of alcohol on your performance goals is important but should not scare you. Anything in moderation can be just fine to enjoy, but just remember what too much in excess can do. Plus, you’ll thank yourself the next morning.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Dubowski, K. M. (1985). “Absorption, distribution and elimination of alcohol: highway safety aspects”. (source)
- Indiana University (2013). “Taste of beer, without effect from alcohol, triggers dopamine release in the brain”. (source)
- Suter, Paolo M. (2005). “Is alcohol consumption a risk factor for weight gain and obesity?”. (source)
- Walter, Marc; Gerhard, Urs; Gerlach, Manfred; Wiejers, Heinz-Gerd; Boening, Jobst; Wiesbeck, Gerhard A. (2006). “Controlled Study on the Combined Effect of Alcohol and Tobacco Smoking on Testosterone in Alcohol-Dependent Men”. (source)
- Lang, Charles H.; Pruznak, Anne M.; Nystrom, Gerald J.; Vary, Thomas C. (2009). “Alcohol-induced decrease in muscle protein synthesis associated with increased binding of mTOR and raptor: Comparable effects in young and mature rats”. (source)
- Miller, Mary Beth; Reen, Eliza Van; Barker, David H.; Roane, Brandy M.; Borsari, Brian; McGeary, John E.; Seifer, Ronald; Carskadon, Mary A. (2017). “The Impact of Sleep and Psychiatric Symptoms on Alcohol Consequences among Young Adults”. (source)