Does alcohol affect fitness?

We've all had and hate that guilty feeling.

You've worked so hard in the gym that week, and you feel you deserve a few drinks. 

Your friends are all around, the music is getting louder and the night darker.

The perfect setting.

Suddenly, you're tipsy. You sneak a look at your biceps and abs in utter guilt.

"Am I undoing all my work?", you ask yourself.


One study (1) examined moderate alcohol intake after resistance training, and found it "magnifies the normally observed losses in dynamic and static strength."

The research involved 11 healthy males, who pumped out 300 reps (across 3 sets) on the leg extension with one leg, before consuming a vodka orange juice alcohol beverage containing 1g/kg bodyweight of ethanol.

In another session, they performed the same workout on the opposite leg, but this time just consumed the orange juice.

The researchers measured the torque produced across the knee, muscle soreness and their plasma creatine kinase before, and at 36 and 60 hours AFTER each of the training bouts.

In many sports science papers, creatine kinase levels are examined in blood tests to check for rhabdomyolysis (severe muscle breakdown) and muscular dystrophy. 


Obviously, all measures of muscle performance were reduced significantly at the 36 hour and 60 hour mark in the post-exercise period, compared to pre-exercise measures.



The greatest decreases in peak strength were observed at 36h with losses of 12%, 28% and 19% occurring for this group, in the isometric, concentric, and eccentric contractions.



The peak strength loss was significantly greater here, with the isometric, concentric, and eccentric contractions decreasing by 34%, 40% and 34%. 

However, post-exercise plasma creatine kinase activity and ratings of muscle soreness were not different between the two different conditions.

The authors concluded that: 

"Consumption of even moderate amounts of alcohol following eccentric-based exercise magnifies the normally observed losses in dynamic and static strength. Therefore, to minimise exercise related losses in muscle function and expedite recovery, participants in sports involving eccentric muscle work should avoid alcohol-containing beverages in the post-event period."

The researchers believe that alcohol affects the nerves that stimulate the muscles to grow after a training session.

So, by consuming a "moderate" amount of alcohol (I'll tell you exactly how much later) - recovery was hindered, which suggest that growth may be too, given gains take place during recovery. 

But these researchers weren't satisfied yet.

What happens if they gave the subjects half of the alcohol - would that still be a problem? 

So they set up another study (2) to determine this, with the same design, only this time giving them just 0.5g/kg of bodyweight of ethanol.

They found:

"No difference between treatments was evident at any of the measured time points. Therefore, consumption of a low dose of alcohol after damaging exercise appears to have no effect on the loss of force associated with strenuous eccentric exercise."  


In the first study, which had a significant effect, 1g/kg of bodyweight worth of ethanol was given.

ONE standard drink contains 14 grams of ethanol (3). It deviates slightly between countries but we'll use this as a rule of thumb.

So let's say a participant weighed 85 kilograms - they had 6 standard drinks in the first study.

In the second study - that same participant would have had 3 standard drinks - where "no effect on the loss of force associated with strenuous eccentric exercise."  

So if you're a sports athlete who needs to back up for another training session or even another game, 6 drinks or more won't do you any favours. Try to cap it at less than 3.


The news here isn't the best!

One study (4) in humans combining a meal of 632kcal with alcohol (71g ethanol) reduced the protein synthesis rate by about 30% over the 4 hours looked at afterwards.

Leucine oxidation was also reduced by 24%.

Leucine is the main amino acid behind protein synthesis (5), and 1 of the 3 BCAAS.

This is not something we want to be hindering at all!

A lot of people always want to know: "will alcohol stop me building musle?" - and the clear answer to that is that it certainly won't do you any favours!


When you drink alcohol, your body's ability to burn fat switches off.

One study (6) found that 0.75g/kg of ethanol over 30 minutes (about 4.5 drinks roughly for an 85 kg subject) DECREASED total body fat oxidation by a whopping 79%, and just as worrying, protein oxidation by 39%.
So your chances of staying lean and syntheiszing proteins efficiently after alcohol, aren't all that great.

Further research (7) also shows that it's not the alcohol that makes you fat - alcohol merely "inhibits lipolysis" - your body's ability to burn it.

So a few cheeky hamburgers after a night out with plenty of drinks - and this is where the damage comes from. 

Of course, there is lots of calories in alocohol too - but the real problem lies in the ethanol (alcohol) itself.


Alcohol will decrease your testosterone levels, but as I've told you before - your testosterone levels (providing they are in the normal range) aren't the be all to end all when it comes to muscle growth.

One study (8) had 10 males drink 30-40 grams of alcohol per day (2-3 standard drinks), and found that 3 weeks later, testosterone levels dropped by about 7%.

This is really not going to cause you any problems at all.

However, further research (9) examined going out to get smashed, and this shattered the subjects testosterone levels! 

8 healthy males from ages 20-26 were given 1.5 g ethanol per kg of body weight. They observed a 23% average testosterone drop between the 10th and 16th hours after drinking began.

Also - cortisol levels were increased by 36% on average.

Not an ideal scenario for "dem gainsz".


The trick to alcohol is MODERATION.

Alcohol and fitness do mix - but only when it's limited.

The negetive effects of alcohol quite promiment. Alcohol will hinder recovery and growth, lower your testosterone, reduce your bodies ability to absorb vital nutrients, and prevent optimal fat loss.

But really - it isn't all doom and gloom. Life is about BALANCE - don't overdo it, and you'll have no issues.

The avialable literature tells us that 2-3 drinks occasionally is fine, and will hardly do much noticable damage to our fitness/muscle growth/fat loss goals in the long term.

However, getting drunk is a dangerous sitiation not only for muscle gains, but for your overall health.

Keep your alcohol intake moderate, and you'll continually be motivated by your newfound progress! 


Stay Fit, Stay Flexed! 



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(1) Barnes MJ, Stannard SR, Mundel T. Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Jan;13(1):189-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2008.12.627. Epub 2009 Feb 20.

(2) Barnes MJ, Stannard SR, Mundel T. A low dose of alcohol does not impact skeletal muscle performance after exercise-induced muscle damage. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Apr;111(4):725-9. doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1655-8. Epub 2010 Sep 28.

(3) Hartney E, PhD. How Much Alcohol is in an Merican Standard Drink?, Health.

(4) De Feo P, et al. Ethanol impairs post-prandial hepatic protein metabolism. J Clin Invest. 1995. 

(5) Norton LE, Layman DK. Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise.  J Nutr. 2006 Feb;136(2):533S-537S.

(6) Shelmet JJ, Reichard GA, Skutches CL, Hoeldtke RD, Owen OE, Boden G. Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance. J Clin Invest. 1988 Apr;81(4):1137-45. 

(7) Siler SQ, Neese RA, Hellerstean MK. De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Nov;70(5):928-36. 

(8) Sierksma A et al. 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. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 May;28(5):780-5.  

(9) Valimaki M, Tuominen JA, Huhtaniemi I, Ylikahrl R. The pulsatile secretion of gonadotropins and growth hormone, and the biological activity of luteinizing hormone in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1990 Dec;14(6):928-31.