In today’s society, Alcohol has become a part of our many people’s lifestyle. I will do my best to cover some of the effects that it can have on our bodies and how it can affect us when we set out to reach our strength or physique goals.
Alcohol is consumed in the form of the recreational drug ethanol which comes from fermented fruits, grains or other sources of sugar. We mainly consume it through wine, beer, distilled spirits or even in one of its legendary forms know as puncheon.
It does contain energy, which totals 7 calories per gram. These must be taken into account as it does affect our total caloric intake. It is worth stating that these calories are ‘empty’ meaning it is does not contain any beneficial nutrients for us. Additionally the forms in which it is consumed will increase the caloric content of the entire drink. For example an average beer could range from 100-200 calories depending on the brand, brew and alcohol content. An average 6oz glass of wine could carry around 150-175 calories and even rum and coke could carry 130-150 calories per drink.
A brief overview on how to practically track alcohol would be to take the allocated calories from the drinks and utilize the same energy and space from carbohydrate or fats or both. You can create a separate category to allocate but it gets too confusing and you will still have to spare the calories from elsewhere anyhow. Example if you had a beer with a caloric value of 150, then you can use 25g of carbs at 4 calories each and 5.5g fats at 9 calories each or any combination you prefer based on your daily macronutrient breakdown.
Now the issue that comes up is how easy it is to over consume in addition to your food intake. Problems arise when you have multiple drinks that pull away from food calories as well. Being human means we let loose sometimes and things can get out of control easily. The average situation where we consume alcohol would be in social settings and it is most times associated with environments where mostly hyperpalatable, caloric dense foods are easily available. Alcohol has also shown to be a poor appetite regulator as the studies shows that people do not compensate by eating less food when consuming alcohol. This however is a dose dependent and can vary based on the individual. Cravings as well as social pressure are higher and it becomes easy to lose control from there. Additionally it is important to note that when alcohol is in our system, our body does alter its fuel source and it would place metabolizing of the other nutrients on the back burner, especially dietary fat. So the others are shuttled to storage as the body will metabolize the alcohol first since it can’t be stored and is recognized as a toxin. It was also been shown that fat oxidation is also being suppressed when we consume alcohol. Now if you can responsibly and accurately fit alcohol into your caloric intake, you would still be able to lose weight if you are in a calorie deficit or gain in a surplus because of where you stand on the energy balance scale. It may just not be the most optimal route. All this together makes sense and should give an idea of what happens as it’s associated with poor choices and easier to blame when things don’t do as planned because we couldn’t be accountable.
However there is also some other adverse effect that can be associated with alcohol consumption as it relates to strength, physique and performance athletes or even if your goals surround these.
The first effect worth mentioning is that alcohol was shown to suppress the elevated rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) after exercise. MPS is just a natural process where proteins are produced to repair damage and when it is more than muscle protein breakdown (MPB) over time, muscle tissue growth occurs (hypertrophy). The results of one study showed that MPS was impaired or by 37% in the absence of a post workout protein intake and ∼24% even with protein to optimally stimulate MPS. However this study utilized the average intake of alcohol that has been self-reported in several studies of binge drinking practices of team athletes averaging ~9 drinks. Now this is alot to consume and you may think it’s not in your garden but it also had another study to show with just one drink with a meal of ~600 calories can reduce MPS by ~30% over 4 hours. Additionally alcohol does inhibit mTOR signalling, which is a major pathway that regulates growth. So do avoid the ‘post gym beers’ with the boys or the pre-fete ‘arm pump’ as it can just do you no justice.
There is also an effect on testosterone. Although there were a few study showing an acute increase in testosterone 2-3 hours after a few standard drinks, other studies showed a decrease in testosterone about 10-16 hours after in men when more alcohol is consumed. This would even range from an 18% to 40% decline and even extend the next day based on the amount if heavily consumed. Even the conversion of testosterone to estrogen can happen in males. However for women, studies do have a trend of showing that they can have an increase in testosterone and estrogen that can be beneficial to them in terms of muscle gain. It should also be noted that some claim women may have a lower tolerance overall and drinking to get these acute benefits would be counterproductive. Two other hormones affected worth mentioning are increases in cortisol or the stress hormone and reduction in growth hormone about 20 hours after. So this down regulation in hormones starts creating a very unfavourable environment to optimally recover, grow and function.
Another mention is the effects it has on sleep. Proper sleep is not only important to recover for muscle and strength gains but also to get us through our day properly. It has been shown to not aid in sleep although it can make it easier for you to fall asleep. The quality becomes affected as it disrupts the second half of your sleep cycle by increasing non-REM sleep and rapid eye movements. You may be more restless, have frequent awakenings or even increase night sweats. It also disrupts our sleep wake cycle by suppressing natural melatonin production as well as affecting our circadian rhythm. This is our body’s natural biological master clock with internal processes that regulates the sleep-wake cycles and other functions that repeats roughly every 24 hours. In addition to this and at best trying to not have alcohol before bed it is another social norm to consume alcohol at nights. Consuming along with late night waking also factors into throwing off proper sleep and could explain why after a night of partying with alcohol we feel so out of sync and tired.
With all this being said on the negative effects, some studies have suggested that alcohol consumed in moderation (<7 drinks/wk) may have beneficial effects, particularly in its ability to improve plasma lipid profiles and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure. Ethanol is known to elevate the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in serum and to lower the amount of serum lipoprotein a. Both effects favour a decrease in cardiovascular disease risk.
To wrap this all up, balance and moderation seems to be the key to avoid some of the heavier side effects in the short and long term. If you are serious about optimizing your physique, strength or performance goals then avoiding alcohol before and after any session seems best. It can be worse if you are in a fat loss phase since we have much more catabolic signalling going on in the body that alcohol can then compound on and make things worse.(see the last blog post) If you must, then be mindful and open to understand what you are doing and the effects that will follow. Consider planning things out when you don’t have to train that day or the next so you can rest, recover and hydrate properly. Do avoid the binge drinking as much as possible, stay more conscious of the food choices and aim to keep it away from sleep.
A balanced life is worth living so as an individual, consider what your personal goals are if you do drink to prioritize what’s important to you. I do hope this provided a better understanding so you can then make more informed choices. Again, thank you for reading and keep following us for more. Feel free give us feedback and please share.
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1) Effect of alcohol consumption on food energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis
2) Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training
3) Testosterone Increases in Men After a Low Dose of Alcohol.
4) The Pulsatile Secretion of Gonadotropins and Growth Hormone, and the Biological Activity of Luteinizing Hormone in Men Acutely Intoxicated with Ethanol.
5) De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. –https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10539756/
6) Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake.
7) The Combined Effect of Alcohol and Physical Exercise on Serum Testosterone, Luteinizing Hormone, and Cortisol in Males
8) Alcohol consumption and risk of heart failure: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study
9) Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (5th Edition).