If you’re trying to build muscle, you’ve probably come across a slew of online videos of influencers and so-called experts discussing all the things you need to do outside of the gym to help you progress. A popular tip is to avoid alcohol altogether if you want to build muscle, with many suggesting that drinking alcohol will prevent you from building muscle.
Although this advice may seem a little extreme, research shows that there is some truth to these claims.
For example, one study looked at how eight physically active young men were affected by heavy drinking (the equivalent of drinking about seven beers over a three-hour period) after exercise. He found that they had reduced muscle protein synthesis — the metabolic process that helps the body build muscle — compared to when there was no alcohol consumption.
But while this suggests that excessive alcohol consumption may hinder your muscle gains, it may not prevent you from gaining muscle completely. And at the moment, evidence for the effects of more moderate alcohol consumption (one to two beers) on muscle gain is lacking.
However, there is similar research on the effects of alcohol on other organs in the body. For example, research on the liver shows that drinking the equivalent of two beers does not negatively impact liver protein synthesis rates – but drinking the equivalent of five beers do.
Similarly, rodent research has also shown that moderate daily alcohol consumption for two weeks did not hinder muscle growth in response to overload (a method used to induce muscle growth in rodents).
This implies that a beer or two is unlikely to interfere with your ability to build muscle in response to resistance exercise. Research also suggests that there may be a threshold for alcohol consumption that, when exceeded, will negatively affect the body’s muscle growth response to resistance exercise.
However, we currently have no corresponding evidence for this effect in humans due to the ethical issues of asking volunteers to repeatedly consume large amounts of alcohol. This is why the majority of existing studies on alcohol consumption are carried out in animals, which provides a model system often used to study muscle growth.
The exact mechanisms by which alcohol affects the muscle building process remain to be established. But some research has shown that heavy alcohol consumption reduces the molecular signals that activate the muscle-building process.
Specifically, in people who consumed alcohol after a workout, a protein known to help regulate the muscle building process – called mechanistic/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) – did not increase to the same extent as in those who did not drink alcohol after training.
Alcohol’s effect on the body’s hormones — specifically testosterone — can also impact muscle gains. Testosterone is a hormone that helps increase muscle mass in response to resistance exercise training.
Research shows that moderate doses of alcohol – equivalent to about two beers – can actually increase testosterone levels. The downside, however, is that this increase doesn’t last very long, making it unlikely to contribute significantly to muscle gain.
Research also shows that high levels of alcohol consumption can actually reduce testosterone levels. This suggests that there is a threshold beyond which alcohol impairs the benefits of exercise.
Research has also shown that you can counteract alcohol’s effect on muscle growth to some degree by ingesting between 20g-25g protein after exercise (equivalent to approximately three large eggs). This is likely because protein intake is one of the main drivers of muscle growth. in the body.
Drinking alcohol can have many other effects on the body, such as causing weight gain. So what does this mean for a post-workout beer?
Well the average 70kg person can burn anywhere between 108 and 216 calories per 30 minutes of weight lifting – depending on the intensity of the exercise. A pint of beer, on the other hand, contains around 200 calories.
So your post-workout drink is unlikely to cause excessive weight gain. But regularly indulging in heavy drinking can increase your risk of gaining weight.
If you’re someone who likes to have a few drinks throughout the week, it seems like a post-workout drink or two probably won’t hinder your efforts to gain muscle, although excessive alcohol consumption can do it.
Much more research is needed to better understand the impacts of different amounts of alcohol on muscle growth in response to exercise, especially in other populations – such as women and the elderly. So, for now, we’re continuing to reiterate what we’ve said before: everything in moderation.