As a competitive bodybuilder, I know how important one’s physique can be. However, as important as it is I’ll still enjoy a drink at a social function every now and then. Although having a drink every once in a while won’t destroy your physique, consistent alcohol consumption can hinder your muscle gains and wreak havoc on your physique by decreasing fat oxidation, decreasing protein synthesis, and lowering testosterone levels. For those reasons, if you want to truly maximize your muscle gains and fat loss, you’ll keep your alcohol consumption at a minimum.
Fat oxidation is a catabolic process in which fatty acids are broken down by the body to be used as energy. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology, exercise increases fat oxidation at rest without changes to one’s dietary intake 3. Meaning, exercise causes you to burn more fat calories when you’re sleeping, at work, watching television, etc. without having to even change your diet, but this is not the case if you’re having a drink during your down time. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that alcohol decreases fat oxidation and habitual consumption of alcohol favors fat storage and weight gain2. When just 24 grams of alcohol is consumed, which is less than 2 beers, the liver produces enough acetate to decrease the body’s fat oxidation by a massive 73% according to the American Journal of Clinical Research1. Therefore, it is extremely important as a bodybuilder to limit your alcohol consumption to ensure you don’t inhibit your fat burning capabilities. Additionally, it is important to remember that alcohol supplies the body with extra calories that aren’t required for optimum function. By consuming alcohol not only does it impair the body’s ability to burn fat as an energy source, but it also hinders the body’s ability to repair muscle tissue.
Protein synthesis is the process of which individual cells construct proteins. Because skeletal muscle fibers are composed of a number of different proteins, protein synthesis is a vital component to muscular growth. Weight training causes stress and trauma to the muscle fibers which stimulates the body to increase protein synthesis in order to rebuild/repair the damaged muscle tissue making it larger and stronger this is known as muscular hypertrophy. However, as little as one beer decreases protein synthesis by as much as 20% for up to a 24 hour period4. This hinders your body’s ability to adequately repair itself thus limiting your muscular growth. Consistently consuming alcohol overtime would not only limit your body’s ability to grow larger muscles via protein synthesis, but it also limits muscular growth by decreasing the body’s testosterone levels.
When it comes to building muscle tissue testosterone is the king of hormones. Studies show that testosterone, especially when combined with strength training, increases fat-free mass and muscle size and strength6. In other words, the more testosterone the body has the better the body’s muscle building capabilities. However, alcohol consumption lowers your testosterone levels; therefore, limiting the body’s capability to increase/build muscle mass. Studies show that moderate alcohol consumption (3-4 drinks per day) reduced plasma testosterone levels in men by as much as 6.8% in a 3 week period5. If you want to keep your testosterone levels high, I’d recommend not consuming alcohol on a daily basis.
This article wasn’t meant to deter you from drinking completely, but meant to educate you on how alcohol can affect your physique. A drink every now and then won’t destroy your physique, but habitual alcohol consumption can definitely spoil some of your hard efforts in the gym by decreasing the body’s ability to burn fat and repair muscle. When it comes to building a superior physique maximizing your efforts in the gym is critical. If getting the most out of your gym efforts is vital to your personal goals, then you’ll keep your alcohol consumption at a minimum.
The Effects of Alcohol on Bodybuilding: References
1^Siler, S.Q., Neese, R.A., & Hellerstein, M.K. (1999). De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 928-936
2^Paolo M. Suter, M.D., M.S., Yves Schutz, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Eric Jequier, M.D. The Effect of Ethanol on Fat Storage in Healthy Subjects N Engl J Med 1992; 326:983-987
3^Calles-Escandon J, Goran MI, O’Connell M, Nair KS, Danforth E Jr. Exercise increases fat oxidation at rest unrelated to changes in energy balance or lipolysis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 270: E1009–E1014,1996.
4^Hong-Brown, L. Q., Frost, R. A. and Lang, C. H. (2001), Alcohol Impairs Protein Synthesis and Degradation in Cultured Skeletal Muscle Cells. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25: 1373–1382. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2001.tb02361.x
5^Sierksma, A., Sarkola, T., Eriksson, C. J. P., van der Gaag, M. S., Grobbee, D. E. and Hendriks, H. F. J. (2004), Effect of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on Plasma Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, Testosterone, and Estradiol Levels in Middle-Aged Men and Postmenopausal Women: A Diet-Controlled Intervention Study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 28: 780–785. doi: 10.1097/01.ALC.0000125356.70824.81
6^Bhasin S, Storer TW, Berman N, Callegari C, Clevenger B, Phillips J, Bunnell TJ, Tricker R, Shirazi A, Casaburi R (July 1996). “The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men”. N. Engl. J. Med. 335 (1): 1–7.