Does alcohol affect workout gains?

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If you’re anything like me, you enjoy drinking wine as much as you like working out. But does drinking alcohol shortly after a workout negate the gains we just made at the gym?

The basic science of muscle building

Muscle essentially needs to be broken down and built back up again to gain the strength and mass we want after lifting. Yes ladies, you want mass too. Squats = booty gains, Arnold Presses = sexy shoulders, Chest Presses = breasts that don’t sag… you get the idea.

The muscle-building nutrients that work the best in repairing the muscles are carbohydrates and protein. If there is enough stored protein and carbohydrate in the body’s muscle tissue and liver, then our workouts will be fueled, and our recovery time will be quicker.

Scenario 1: You finished your workout and allowed several hours to pass before eating or drinking anything. The first thing you consume is a glass of wine and a large bowl of pasta. The body has two major substances to breakdown – carbohydrates and alcohol.

Alcohol is never stored as energy in the body. This means, that your body will most likely store WAY more of the calories from the pasta as glycogen (the storage form of glucose) and bodyfat (when the muscle and liver stores are full).

Scenario 2: You finished your workout and decide to have the typical bodybuilder-style meal of chicken, rice, and broccoli. You aren’t trying to maintain a six-pack, so you decide to have a glass of wine with dinner, and another glass before heading to bed. Will the body use the alcohol differently in this situation compared to the scenario above?

First, regardless of how active you are and regardless of when you eat, the body will always use the calories in alcohol first. The difference between the two scenarios above has more to do with the type of food that was chosen for muscle recovery.

In scenario 2, the body was fed with protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Sure, the alcohol was broken down first, but there were nutrients available to replenish the muscle glycogen lost during your workout. Replenishing the body’s fuel storage systems shortly after depleting them, will speed up recovery and led to strength gains much faster.

Another IMPORTANT thing to mention is hydration. Alcohol can prolong recovery time from a workout if you are dehydrated and decide to have 1-2 drinks. Alcohol literally pulls water from the GI tract to be processed and eliminated by the body, and if you are already dehydrated, not only will alcohol enter your bloodstream quicker, but your muscles won’t be able to flush out the lactic acid build-up from the workout.

The bottom line(s). Alcohol in of itself won’t inhibit strength gains, but drinking alcohol can prolong recovery time from a workout. Best practice would be to stay hydrated throughout the day, limit overall alcohol intake, and be conscious about feeding the body with proper nutrients before and after a workout.