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Does alcohol impact muscle growth?

Alcohol consumption is a common social activity that many individuals partake in, and interestingly enough, physically active individuals, including those who engage in resistance exercise regularly, tend to consume alcohol more frequently and in larger quantities compared to their sedentary counterparts (1). However, when it comes to fitness, alcohol can have detrimental effects on muscle growth, exercise performance, and recovery.


A man wears bluetooth ear buds and uses a cable machine whilst in a gym.

Should you wait to exercise after drinking alcohol? Can you drink alcohol and still build muscle? We’ll answer these questions, explore the relationship between booze and your body, and provide you with holistic lifestyle recommendations in this post.


Alcohol’s implications on muscle growth

As explained in this blog post on maximizing muscle growth, muscle protein synthesis is how your body builds new proteins. Regular resistance exercise causes small tears in your muscle fibres, thus stimulating muscle protein synthesis and facilitating muscle growth to repair those tears. While exercise is beneficial for muscle growth, alcohol consumption can impede this process.


A 2022 review explains that alcohol consumption, especially when combined with resistance exercise, can hinder the positive effects of exercise on muscle growth to a certain extent (2).


This hindrance is primarily attributed to the inhibitory impact of alcohol on a specific cellular signalling pathway called the mTOR pathway (1,2,3). This pathway plays a crucial role in regulating protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy and is highly sensitive to alcohol (1,2,3).


A man with tattoos on his arm wears a backwards while performing a split squat in a gym.

Alcohol intake has been shown to suppress certain pathway signalling, impairing the muscle's ability to synthesize new proteins (1,2,3). This inhibition occurs even with a single exercise session, making it important to consider the timing of alcohol consumption pre- and post-exercise as well as the volume of alcohol consumed.


Avoid consuming alcohol immediately before or after a workout as it can hinder the activation of the mTOR pathway, thus impacting the muscle growth, repair, and maintenance process.


Alcohol’s implications on performance and recovery

This then begs the question of how alcohol consumption affects physical measures, such as force and power, muscular endurance and soreness, as well as cognitive function.


Force and power

When it comes to force and power, a 2019 systematic review found alcohol consumption may have a slight, but not significant reduction in force production during recovery following resistance exercise (3).


Muscular endurance and soreness

Muscular endurance and soreness were other factors considered in the review. The results indicated that alcohol consumption did not significantly influence muscular endurance, suggesting that individuals can still maintain their endurance levels even after consuming alcohol (3). Additionally, alcohol consumption did not contribute to increased muscle soreness compared to non-alcohol conditions (3).


Cognitive function

Cognitive function is crucial for sports and activities that require decision-making processes and quick responses to visual stimuli. While the findings may not be a surprise, the review found alcohol consumption does impair cognitive function immediately after, 2 hours after, and even 16 hours after exercise (3).


A man breaths heavily as he uses a leg press machine.

A holistic perspective

While the findings of the reviews sound troubling, there is still hope for the non-competitive population who enjoy an occasional drink.


There are some suggestions that regular resistance exercise can counteract some of the negative effects of alcohol on muscle health (1,3). Engaging in consistent resistance training can help mitigate the inhibitory impact of alcohol, allowing for better muscle growth and recovery (1,3).


It’s important to understand that the consumption of alcohol does have an impact on muscle hypertrophy, exercise performance, and recovery, so yes, it is optimal not to have alcohol at all (1,2,3).


However, if you’re not competing, are consuming adult beverages in moderation, say 1-2 casual drinks per week, are training frequently, and eating a well-balanced diet conducive to your goals, the negative effects won’t do as much damage to your goals (1,2,3).


 

Need help getting to the gym?

When you’re busy, staying fit can get put on the back burner, causing your fitness goals to suffer. Discover how a certified personal trainer can help you stay on track with your fitness goals by visiting shifttostrength.com/onlinetraining today.


 

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References

  1. Levitt, D. E., Luk, H. Y., & Vingren, J. L. (2022). Alcohol, Resistance Exercise, and mTOR Pathway Signaling: An Evidence-Based Narrative Review. Biomolecules13(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom13010002

  2. Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One9(2), e88384. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0088384

  3. Lakićević N. (2019). The Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Recovery Following Resistance Exercise: A Systematic Review. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology4(3), 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk4030041

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