Does Alcohol Affect Muscle Growth?

Alcohol, and its effects on building muscle is a topic that I hear about again and again. If I drink tonight, is the heavy lifting I did at the gym today wasted? Will it inhibit my ability to gain muscle? Will it turn me catabolic and eat up all my muscle? Will it all turn to fat?  As someone who loves to go out and enjoy some quality spirits, these questions have always interested me. I decided to sift through a number of scientific journals in search of the answer, this is what I found:

The Facts

1. Alcohol is effectively a fourth macronutrient, coming in at 7 calories per gram (1).

2. Unfortunately, unlike the other 3 macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) your body is not capable of efficiently deriving energy from it – hence the popular term empty calories. This is misleading, however, because some energy is, in fact, derived. Just a smaller percentage.

Furthermore this percentage decreases with subsequent drinks. This means that your body actually utilizes a substantial percentage of the calories consumed from the first couple of drinks for energy (2).

3. It inhibits protein synthesis. New muscle tissue develops when the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown (i.e., in a positive muscle protein balance). It is important to note that the studies that confirm this notion have been performed on rats and alcoholics (3).

The Implications

These facts have a couple of key implications.

1. In terms of weight or fat gain, energy balance is still king. If you consume more calories than you expend (eat more than you burn) you will gain weight—regardless if alcohol was or was not included in said calories.

2. Heavy alcohol consumption will affect your progress in the gym. Big surprise, right? Heavy drinking leads to less energy being derived from the beverages and suppresses the rate at which your body can synthesize muscle protein. Not to mention that your performance will suffer if you lift with a hangover.

The Conclusion

As long as you limit alcohol consumption to a moderate amount (roughly two drinks per day) there will be little to no negative side effects in the quest to gain muscle and improve your physique. Then again, if you are not concerned with deriving the absolute maximal benefits out of your training, going hard every once in a while is unlikely to seriously hinder your gains.

1. Suter PM, Jéquier E, Schutz Y. Effect of ethanol on energy expenditure. American Journal of Physiology 1994;266(4 Pt 2):R1204-12.
2. Lieber CS. Perspectives: do alcohol calories count? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1991;54(6):976-982.
3. Pacy, P. J., et al. The effect of chronic alcohol ingestion on whole body and muscle protein synthesis—a stable isotope study. Alcohol and Alcoholism 1991;26(5-6):505-513.

Read More: Coffee Is Good For Your Health

20 thoughts on “Does Alcohol Affect Muscle Growth?”

  1. Alcohol; also depending on rate of consumption can really work your liver (1/2 ounce per hour max). It makes you pee more and may lose essential vitamins and minerals. And it raises your HDL. Yep 2 small drinks per day is ideal if not per week when it comes to fitness.

  2. You are both 100% correct. I just chose to limit the focus of this article to factors that relate only to building muscle.

  3. This is an interesting article. Sourced facts are always good and under appreciated.

    1. My pregame routine is hitting the gym and doing some squats. I get a way better buzz from doing that, than I would from drinking.

    1. Actually I wish this was the norm rather than the exception, more references.
      The manosphere is accused often of being “without rigor”.
      More references would go a long way to providing the appearance of rigor.

  4. Alcohol is a testosterone killer, like sugar, so if you want to gain muscle it’s going to impede you. Though I do love a frosty IPA.

  5. If you’re like me and you’re from the Ozzy Osbourne school of drinking, that two drinks per day stuff just ain’t cutting it. As Arthur Daley used to say in referencing the Great Train Robber that fled to Brazil dodging incarceration, “it’s the Ronnie Biggs’ approach – you’re either in or you’re out, anywhere else is no place to be.”
    Who really has two or three or four … drinks and stops? Who really goes out on the town for several hours and has just a couple of drinks? It rings to me as political correctness for getting on the turps.
    After slurping a few drops or more of your favourite poison, hands up who feels like a tray of brussels sprouts, potato salad, or a bunch of broccoli? Ah yes, no hands! Even your heads are bowed. Be honest. Now, who feels like scarfing a pepperoni pizza? Me. Me. Meeeee. This comes under the unintended consequences of consuming alcohol.
    Alcohol is ethanol and it’s a drug which is in the same family as methanol which is found in paint stripper. A reason long time smokers/drinkers have high rates of esophagus and larynx cancers. If you’re serious about muscle growth and body conditioning, just stay away from any grog and leave it to the pissheads. Spend the money on vitamins.
    That said, David is researched and factual and a couple drinks won’t kill you or do much harm to recreational fitness training. Of course, that’s if you stop and drink No. 2. Good luck to you if you can. Or you just get flat out lucky in life like the Double O.
    Last word on drinking must go to a woman. If you don’t really care about muscle growth you can always try this British Girl Power opinion where the blame, of course, rests with someone else:
    “It gives you fun, crazy memories to look back on.”
    Ahhh, yes, the memories of inebriation – and buyer’s remorse.

  6. Props for the extra effort in reference to the science journals, hearsay gets old really quickly. This is continuous with what I do, some nights I really want to go out but I also want to go to the gym, I’ll just have 2 beers, you can also drink light beer too.

  7. David deserves a standing ovation for including references and correctly cited as well. Bravo!

  8. I read somewhere a while back that alcohol slows down your metabolism for a couple of days. Any truth?

  9. The problem with alcohol is 1.) it’s a poison that dehydrates the body. 2.) it stimulates the appetite (think jumbo slice) 3.) it inhibits sleep which hurts overall recovery 4.) it’s excess calories that bring nothing to the table. 4.) it causes your body to store water over the long term because of a fear of dehydration. You’ll notice that if you stop drinking over a long period of time (3 weeks), your body and skin will feel tighter and more crisp.
    Straight up….Alcohol is poison…..but it’s the social lubricant that causes the panties to drop. So live and let live I guess.

  10. Just to throw an anecdotal wrench into the well cited science lab; an area of nutrition that is getting more and more attention, is nutrients that are the end result of fermentation processes. In the olden days, food production, storage and preparation were not always as clean, climate controlled and sterile as today, leading to, amongst other things, more fungi and yeasts being present in food.
    As an example; amongst wine growers and makers, and for all I know scientific oenologists as well, it has become clear that a major contributor to the taste and composition of the finished wine, are fungi (and perhaps bacteria) living in the boundary layer between the soil and the wine’s root stock. Influencing the nutrients that the wine takes up, and that then is and available to the grapes. Exactly what that has to do with muscle building is probably not obvious, but……
    Anyway, alcohol, and more importantly, alcoholic beverages (which contain all kinds of other things that just alcohol), have been around forever. Which renders it likely that people evolved to make use of the components in said beverages. It’s just reasoning similar to what goes into the argument for the “Paleo” diets which seem to be all the rage amongst evo-inspired game dudes.

  11. Alcohol is one of the drugs promoted by the economic and political elites. Alcohol tames your natural revolutionary instincts and leads you to accept the status quo based on the immediate gratifications and social power it gives you. We all know it also creates physical and psychological dependency and fucks with your health. The perfect recipe for a slave.

    1. Brains and awareness don’t mean shit if you do not use them. Where are all the revolutions now? Their faces up in ipads and tabloids, looking at shit. Alcohol is just the tip of the iceberg.

  12. VERY VERY INCORRECT. Alcohol is an inflammatory substance. A toxic substance to the body. The blood and the liver and to testosterone levels. Check the background of the so-called researchers trying to mitigate the effects of alcohol on the body. Most likely their studies were funded by BEER manufacturers. Just like Cellphone manufacturers and service providers had funded studies that said “Cellphones don’t cause brain tumors.”

  13. You missed the bit about alcohol’s effect on insulin levels – it spikes them considerably even though it may be calorifically and carb light. So if you’re on a low/slow carb diet (and you should be if you’re wanting to remain lean while maintaining/building muscle) drinking any alcohol will defeat your dietary efforts. This is on top of the dehydration and muscle growth inhibition.

  14. How to build muscle as fast as humanly possible…That’s what we all want to know.Most of us don’t have the genetics of an NFL running back or pro bodybuilder.So it’s not all your fault.I was mixed-up until I got this plan,see my review of it:>bestfitnessandmusclebuilding(dot)com/ms2<

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