4 min read

Here’s What Alcohol Does to Your Muscle Growth Goals

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Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

Some endurance athletes are big fans of drinking non-alcoholic beer after a workout. After all, it’s an isotonic drink! The fizzy zero-proof has all the same taste and nutrients as traditional beer, minus the booze. But what happens when you combine actual alcohol and muscle growth goals? Keep reading to find out how alcohol consumption can influence muscle development, whether it’s just one drink or a few scoops.

Whether it’s strength or cardio, the goal of exercise is to build muscle and feel fit. Unfortunately, most research agrees that alcohol is, plainly put, a hurdle on your way to muscle development.

In fact, studies show that even only one alcoholic drink can drastically reduce athletic performance. Drinking alcohol gets in the way in three ways: muscle protein synthesis, regeneration, and post-workout recovery.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t drink. Far from it. It’s our job to let you know about reaching your fitness goals, and all kinds of unexpected factors that can make it more complicated. The more information you have, the better you can do at weighing up all the factors yourself and making the best choices for your own body.

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7 Facts About Alcohol and Muscle Growth

1. High Alcohol Consumption Reduces Growth Hormone Secretion

Testosterone—also known as the muscle growth hormone—plays a huge role in the muscle building processes. This hormone stimulates our bodies to metabolize protein, which gives our muscle cells more access to nutrients when they’re needed. Because alcohol affects testosterone levels, it can also impair muscle development.

2. Alcohol Slows Down Nutrient Absorption and Glycogen Storage

The body needs potassium—the nutrient famously found in bananas—to build up glycogen stores. And it needs glycogen stores to fuel it through all physical efforts. Although certain alcoholic beverages, like beer, are surprisingly rich in nutrients like potassium, the alcohol content inhibits our bodies from absorbing it. This process is the result of a number of effects that alcohol can have on the body. Keep reading to find out about the connections between alcohol and muscle growth.

3. Alcohol Consumption Dehydrates the Body

Anyone that’s ever had a hangover knows all about the dehydrating effects of alcohol. It’s also a diuretic, which means that it temporarily blocks the body from absorbing nutrients or removing toxic waste products. Without these necessary nutrients, the muscles don’t have the energy they need for protein synthesis to grow and recover quickly after exercise.

4. Alcohol Relaxes Blood Vessels

Ever felt chilly after you drink? Moderate alcohol consumption causes the blood vessels to expand. While it makes you feel warm at first, that heat is soon lost. Your whole body cools down. Then it has to work twice as hard to restore its normal internal temperature. That extra energy can’t be put towards muscle regeneration.

5. Alcohol Makes Your Body Produce More Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone that degrades muscle in what is known as a catabolic process. This hormone can immediately undo all the good you’ve done for your muscles after a workout.

In addition, cortisol degrades your immune system, which isn’t great for a body that’s already rebuilding after a hard workout. If you drink alcohol regularly after your workouts, you’re working against a strong immune system.

6. Alcohol Makes You Sleep Worse

Our bodies break down harmful substances and build up good ones while we sleep. The more you exercise, the more sleep you need to eliminate the bad and regenerate the good. And alcohol is a known sleep disturber!

7. Alcohol Can Cause Weight Gain

In addition to being calorie-rich, most alcohols don’t contain enough nutrients to be worth drinking. And it certainly doesn’t help that excess empty calories from alcohol are stored in the body as fat.

The liver transforms alcohol into acetate—a compound of acetic acid. At first, the body uses this compound as an energy source. But this process causes your liver to produce much more bad fat than it normally does. Find out more about the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats in this article.

Alcohol Consumption Degrades Both Muscle Development and Long-Term Performance

The effects of consuming alcohol after a workout can echo on for days. A study out of New Zealand showed that alcohol intake reduces muscle development and strength almost immediately.

Two men's bodies and two other men's arms, each holding a bottle of beer, toast to learning about alcohol and muscle growth
©istock/TommL

Even two days after a night of drinking, athletes reported feeling a decrease in their muscle performance by up to 50%2. The consequences are also psychological. If you’re not able to perform as well as you normally do, you may not have as much fun or feel as motivated.

When Is the Best Time to Drink After Exercise?

In theory, the best time to drink is never, because alcohol harms the body way more than it helps it. But that’s not realistic for most people. Instead of drinking right after a workout, save margarita night for a couple days after. Ideally, you’d wait three or four days after your last heavy sweat session before you drink, but don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble sticking to this rule.

And it doesn’t always have to be all or nothing! If you’re drinking for the social feeling it brings, why not go for a non-alcoholic beer or a mocktail? It tastes just as fabulous, gives you the same sipping experience, shuts down anyone asking annoying questions, and it’s not getting in the way of gaining muscle. We’ve got a few mocktail recipes up our sleeve, in case you were wondering.

When in doubt, remember that one drink isn’t going to ruin your exercise goals. Drink in moderation and you’ll always be good to go.

Our Conclusion

  • Alcohol impedes muscle development and regeneration.
  • Alcohol and exercise do not go hand in hand.
  • If you want to drink, avoid intense workouts two days before or after. Opt for a recovery session instead.
  • Beer is a great sports drink because it’s surprisingly packed with nutrients, but alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to absorb them. Alcohol-free beer tastes just as good and has all those nutrients.
  • Alcohol-free mocktails are also great alternatives when you want to consume alcohol.
  • The less alcohol consumed, the healthier your muscles will be.

More Health Facts from foodspring:

Article sources
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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