Alcohol and Protein Synthesis


Does alcohol consumption have a negative effect on your ability to build muscle? According to the latest research, Yes, it does. This research is interesting because I think many people have a drink several nights a week and think its no big deal. But these studies would seem to indicate that if you are going to drink, don’t spread it out over each and every day. Consider it similar to a cheat meal and just contain it to a certain time period.

According to the Notre Dame Office of Alcohol and Drug Education alcohol can negate the physiological benefits achieved through training, weightlifting or physical activity. It can hinder protein synthesis, which is the process that is necessary to build muscle. Alcohol can hinder your ability to build muscle. It can wipe out any benefits you expected to achieve from that hard workout you just did and keep you from reaching you true muscle building potential. They also state that alcohol can cause dehydration and slow your body’s ability to recover from bouts of exercise.


The research goes on to state that alcohol can put your body in a catabolic state (the opposite of building muscle) due to its high calorie content and disruptive nature to normal bodily processes, such as protein synthesis. You need protein synthesis to build muscle. If you don’t exercise with enough intensity or often enough your muscle breakdown may exceed your muscle gains, especially after the age of 30. To achieve muscle growth, you must have a positive muscle nitrogen, muscle protein, balance. If you don’t consume enough protein after working out with sufficient intensity it can put you into a catabolic state (the opposite of building muscle). Alcohol consumption can have the same effect even in the presence of adequate protein intake. This can effectively wipe out all the benefits of the workout you just busted your butt doing.


A study published in 1991 in the journal “Alcohol and Alcoholism” found that chronic intake of alcohol suppressed protein synthesis and can cause myopathy. Myopathy is a condition that causes muscle fibers to not function properly which can result in muscle weakness and/or loss of movement. The study focused on long-term use of alcohol, but found that short-term use can also inhibit protein synthesis.

It’s all about your Hormones


It’s all about your hormones. They play a key role in protein synthesis, specifically testosterone (yes ladies have testosterone too, just in smaller amounts) and human growth hormone. Training at the appropriate intensity level causes the levels of these two hormones to rise. You add protein to this mix and you get an increase in muscle. According to Notre Dame, alcohol affects the release of both of these hormones. Alcohol can reduce the secretion of HGH by up to 70%. It can also cause your liver to release substances that cancel out the muscle building effects of testosterone. The result is a decreased ability to build muscle.


Timing is Everything


It’s all about the timing. Although moderate alcohol consumption is generally recognized as being safe and beneficial to heart health it doesn’t hold true to protein synthesis and increasing muscle. The 2001 report published in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” states that protein metabolism and synthesis peaks 24-48 hours after a training session. Drinking alcohol within that window of time can sabotage your ability to maximize the benefits of your exercise.


Get the Most out of your Training


The bottom line is if you want to get the most out of busting your butt in the gym or with your trainer you should keep your alcohol intake to small windows. That glass of wine or beer every night might be keeping you from getting the most out of your training. If you want to maximize your ability to gain muscle and lose body fat you might want to limit your alcohol intake to a couple of days each week.