How Alcohol May Be Limiting Your Progress

Wednesday, February 1, 2017. Author Geraldine Campbell

For many of us, drinking alcohol is a common activity within our modern lifestyles. But how does it impact your body following exercise?

Recovery

Alcohol consumption causes oxidative stress. High levels of oxidative stress can impair processes within the body, and may slow your recovery post-workout; particularly following more eccentric based exercise. Eccentric activities are when the muscles are elongated when under maximum load, like squats, or walking/running downhill, and this causes more muscle damage than concentric activities in which muscles are under maximum load while contracted. At FitnessGenes, we provide you a score of your susceptibility to oxidative stress using a combination of genes (PGC1A and UCP2). If you are more susceptible to oxidative stress, then the effect of alcohol consumption could be amplified for you!

Alcohol can also negatively impact upon your recovery by slowing the replenishment of muscle glycogen (energy in the form of glucose stored in your muscles). Even when carbohydrate-rich meals are eaten following a workout, consuming alcohol reduces glucose uptake inhibiting replenishment of your muscle glycogen stores. For those of you who are partaking in prolonged, demanding exercise, it is super important that you focus on your carbohydrate intake following exercise and avoid alcohol. If not, your glycogen stores won’t fully recover, leaving you with less energy to fuel your next workout!

The impact of alcohol on your recovery can be long lasting, so if you have a heavy training schedule and high-performance expectations, alcohol should probably not exist as part of your diet.

Muscle Growth

There are many important molecules involved in increasing muscle protein synthesis to allow for hypertrophy (muscle growth) and increased strength. You have probably heard about the importance of post-workout nutrition - particularly the intake of protein during the ‘anabolic window’ (i.e. the 40 minutes immediately following your workout when amino acid uptake is the highest, and the most critical period for increasing muscle protein synthesis). Rather than grabbing a protein shake, many of us still reach for a few drinks instead.

This is bad news for your ability to maximize muscle growth following a resistance workout. Alcohol has been shown to impair IGF1 (one of the genes responsible for muscle growth) signalling, leading to reduced gene transcription post-exercise. This reduces hypertrophy, particularly in the fast twitch fibers. Alcohol also impairs mTOR signaling (the key regulator of muscle growth), reducing muscle protein synthesis. When alcohol is consumed post-workout, muscle protein synthesis is reduced even if adequate carbohydrates and/or protein are eaten.

The short story is: If you want to make the most of your strength training, avoid alcohol post-exercise. But if temptation creeps in, make sure your post workout tipple is enjoyed with a high protein meal to help salvage some of the muscle growth you want!

Testosterone

Testosterone is important for anabolic processes such as muscle growth, so maintaining adequate levels of circulating testosterone both at rest and around training is important. High levels of alcohol consumption post-exercise have been shown to decrease testosterone levels, with chronic high consumption having a negative long-term impact on resting testosterone levels. Low testosterone can negatively impact on body composition, protein synthesis and muscular adaptations; further inhibiting recovery post-exercise. It is important to not over-consume alcohol to keep your testosterone levels optimized for maximum muscle building potential!

Here at FitnessGenes, we provide a genetic results for testosterone production, but also a Testosterone Evaluation Template (TET) score which combines genetics with environmental factors like your age to give you a more accurate indication of what your actual circulating blood testosterone levels are (Ranging from High to Low). If you have a poor TET score, it is even more important to limit your alcohol intake.

Some good news perhaps...

Many of the studies on the negative impacts of alcohol have involved relatively high doses – around six alcoholic drinks for a 180-pound (82 kg) man. 

Half this amount - 0.5g of alcohol / kg of bodyweight or about 3 drinks - will have less of an impact on your muscle building potential and recovery.

Despite this, it is still important that your proper post-exercise nutrition comes first, so eat the protein and / or carbs you need and rehydrate before you indulge in the occasional beer!!

Receive 41 genetic reports, personalized recommendations, and a genetically tailored workout and nutrition plan by purchasing a goal specific Genetic Workout System from our online shop.

References

Steiner, J.L. and Lang, C.H., 2015. Alcohol intoxication following muscle contraction in mice decreases muscle protein synthesis but not mTOR signal transduction. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(1), pp.1-10.

El-Sayed, M.S. and Al-Bayatti, M.F., 2001. Effects of alcohol ingestion following exercise on postprandial lipemia. Alcohol, 23(1), pp.15-21.

Burke, L.M., Collier, G.R., Broad, E.M., Davis, P.G., Martin, D.T., Sanigorski, A.J. and Hargreaves, M., 2003. Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 95(3), pp.983-990.

Lang, C.H., Frost, R.A., Deshpande, N., Kumar, V., Vary, T.C., Jefferson, L.S. and Kimball, S.R., 2003. Alcohol impairs leucine-mediated phosphorylation of 4E-BP1, S6K1, eIF4G, and mTOR in skeletal muscle. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 285(6), pp.E1205-E1215.

Parr, E.B., Camera, D.M., Areta, J.L., Burke, L.M., Phillips, S.M., Hawley, J.A. and Coffey, V.G., 2014. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One, 9(2), p.e88384.

Lang, C.H., Pruznak, A.M., Nystrom, G.J. and Vary, T.C., 2009. Alcohol-induced decrease in muscle protein synthesis associated with increased binding of mTOR and raptor: Comparable effects in young and mature rats. Nutrition & metabolism, 6(1), p.4.

Bamji, Z.D. and Haddad, G.E., 2015. Convergence of theories of alcohol administration postanabolic stimulation on mtor signaling: Lessons for exercise regimen. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 39(5), p.787.

Barnes, M.J., 2014. Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(7), pp.909-919.

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