Why Alcohol and Bodybuilding Don’t Mix
Bodybuilders know nutrition has to be on-point to achieve maximum results.
However, an exception is made quite often to this creed: the consumption of alcohol. Drinking at social functions is assumed and expected in our culture.
And at first glance, having a few drinks every now seems like no big deal. I mean, it’s not like it could wreak havoc on your physique, right?
Let’s take a closer look.
Drinking alcohol on weekends alone may seem infrequent (only two of seven days).
However, it will set you back more than you know by decreasing fat oxidation, decreasing protein synthesis, and lowering testosterone levels.
Will one weekend of fun destroy your gains? Probably not, but it can slow down your momentum greatly.
Worse yet, it can become a slippery slope, and those who do partake tend to not have an honest evaluation of their frequency of alcohol consumption.
This isn’t about being a good or bad person; it’s a matter of simple science and good health.
Alcohol and bodybuilding are just not a good match. If you want to truly take the bodybuilding lifestyle seriously, I recommend reinventing your social life a little by keeping alcohol consumption at a bare minimum.
I abstain from alcohol altogether (health and spiritual reasons) and still have a wildly fun social life.
As so often in life, we have to sacrifice desired pleasures to acquire more important things.
The Toxicity of Alcohol
The toxicity of alcohol is a topic that’s been studied extensively by scientific researchers for decades. Alcohol loves to attach itself to the membranes in our nerve cells, where it builds up and interrupts healthy functioning.
Researchers in one study published in the Journal of Hepatology emphasized that excessive alcohol intake is a major public health issue around the world and one of the main determinants of a variety of non-communicable diseases.
The World Health Organization has estimated alcohol is attributed to at least four percent of all deaths worldwide and is a leading risk factor especially for males between the ages of 15 and 59.
There are many factors that contribute to the toxicity of alcohol, including:
- Nutritional abnormalities
- Changes in hormones
- Serotonin levels
- Acetylcholine levels
- Changes in electrolyte balance
- Heavy metal content
How intoxicated you get is ultimately determined by genetics, gender, race, other health conditions you have, body size and composition, your current mood, hormones, what you’ve been eating, and how you’ve been sleeping. Bodybuilders’ systems are going through periods of great transition during training, so the way your body used to handle alcohol is likely different now.
Having a Couple Drinks vs. Getting Drunk
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to reach a state of all-out drunkenness to do noticeable damage to your health and prevent gains at the gym. Even weekend warriors and people who have just a drink or two per night to wind down at the end of the day are slowing down their bodybuilding progress.
For example, drinking in excess on a single night, even if that’s a very rare occurrence, hinders your body’s ability to fight infections and weakens your immune system long after the buzz has worn off. If you’re serious about bodybuilding, you simply don’t have time or energy to waste on alcohol.
Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Even if you understand how alcohol affects you personally, you might not realize the extent of the effects it has on your body. It slows down your progress to build muscle and burn fat, but that’s just the start.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism lays out many of the common effects alcohol has on the body:
- Brain – mood, coordination, movement difficulties
- Heart – irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke
- Liver – Fatty liver deposits, fibrosis, cirrhosis
- Cancer – Mouth, liver, breast, throat, esophagus
- Pancreas – digestion issues
- Immune system – makes the body an easy target for illness
The effects of alcohol are caused by the metabolites (substances necessary for metabolism) it contains, which can eventually lead to metabolic acidosis and cellular dysfunction. Metabolic acidosis occurs when there is too much acid in your body’s fluids, and symptoms include rapid breathing and lethargy.
Meanwhile, cellular dysfunction often appears in the body as an inflammatory condition and is marked by reduced protein turnover and impaired energy production. It doesn’t take a scientist to understand why these effects and symptoms are problematic for bodybuilders.
The morning after a heavy night of drinking in your 40s probably feels considerably more miserable than it did when you were in your 20s. That’s because our bodies typically recover from intoxication quicker when we’re young, and the age difference in recovery tends to increase with greater amounts of alcohol.
In short, protein synthesis is the process of individual cells constructing proteins. When you train hard in the gym, you damage your muscle tissue and the process of protein synthesis helps repair the damage. This is also how we build muscle and grow stronger.
However, research show as little as one beer decreases protein synthesis by as much as 20% for up to a 24-hour period. That’s not good at all.
It flat-out cripples your body’s ability to repair, thus slowing down and limiting your gains.
When we start talking about alcohol and bodybuilding, we have to address testosterone.
Alcohol consumption lowers testosterone. Ironically, men who drink a lot think it’s “manly,” when in fact, it makes them less of a man — literally. It also limits the body’s ability to build lean muscle. Studies show that having three to four drinks in a day can reduce testosterone levels in men by as much as seven percent.
I don’t know about you, but I need all the “T” I can get.
Alcohol and Bodybuilding … and Body Fat
Fat oxidation is a catabolic process in which fatty acids are broken down by the body to be used as energy. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology, bodybuilding increases fat oxidation at rest without changes to one’s dietary intake.
This means you burn calories even while you’re sleeping. That is awesome.
Well, say bye-bye to this awesomeness if you drink alcohol.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that alcohol decreases fat oxidation and habitual consumption of alcohol favors fat storage and weight gain.
When only 24 grams of alcohol is consumed (less than two beers), the liver produces enough acetate to decrease the body’s fat oxidation, by a colossal 73 percent. 
To make things worse, alcohol is a poor source of extra calories that aren’t built into your meal plan.
Alcohol and Bodybuilding Takeaway
This article was meant to educate you on how alcohol can affect bodybuilding.
Even if you like to drink in a social capacity, it can decrease your body’s ability to burn fat and repair muscle. Any amount weakens the body.
Although it’s clear that alcohol isn’t good for your health, this isn’t sweeping message telling folks to get sober. People can drink responsibly with minimal health damage.
However, if excelling at bodybuilding is important to you, abstaining from booze might be one more sacrifice worth taking.
- Siler, S.Q., Neese, R.A., & Hellerstein, M.K. (1999). “De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 928-936.