We all love to have a beer or two after our competitions, road races, or an intense training session, but is our habitual alcohol consumption actually causing more harm than good? What effect does this have on our performance and recovery? What about the effects on nutrient absorption, sleep, and hormones? If you’re curious about the answers to these questions, then I suggest you keep reading!
Alcohol + Performance and Recovery
Consuming alcohol after a workout delays the recovery process by decreasing protein synthesis and hindering glycogen restoration. In other words, preventing gains. If you’re thinking, “oh, I’ll just have some protein with my beer”, think again! Research has shown that even when alcohol is consumed with a protein source after exercise, alcohol still prevents those gains by decreasing protein synthesis.
Alcohol is a powerful diuretic which can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. You’re probably already dehydrated or at risk for becoming dehydrated after a long training session or competition. So, adding alcohol to mix is probably not the best idea. If you want your recovery from sore muscles to be as fast as possible then you should probably be mindful about how many drinks you have after an intense workout or make sure you rehydrate with water and/or an electrolyte solution.
Alcohol + Nutrient Absorption
Alcohol itself has no nutritional value but it also prevents your body from absorbing some key nutrients.
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1): helps metabolize carbohydrates to be used as energy, plays a role in muscle contraction, and is involved in the formation of hemoglobin.
- Vitamin B12: helps make DNA and maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells.
- Folate: helps tissues grow and cells work, works with other vitamins to help the body break down, use, and create new proteins, and helps form red blood cells.
- Zinc: helps enhance immune system, plays a role in wound healing and cell growth and breakdown of carbohydrates.
Alcohol + Sleep
Alcohol disrupts the quality of sleep by reducing REM sleep. If your REM sleep (AKA restorative sleep) is habitually disrupted, you may be at risk for injury and/or increased fatigue thereby affecting the quality of your workouts.
Chronic, daily consumption of alcohol has been shown to increase the stress hormone cortisol which can reduce levels of growth hormone. Growth hormone helps build and repair muscle. Growth hormone is predominately secreted during sleep and if sleep is disrupted, can decrease the amount of growth hormone released – preventing muscle gains.
Alcohol + Hormones
Whereas cortisol fuels protein breakdown, testosterone increases protein synthesis. Research has indicated that 2-3 alcoholic beverages per day impairs testosterone levels by decreasing secretion of testosterone. This can impair protein synthesis (building protein, AKA muscle gains) and hinder the results of strength training over time.
There is some good news…a study concluded that male athletes will not see a negative impact on performance and recovery if they stick to 0-1 drinks per day.
The Final Verdict
There is no need to think that you should abstain from drinking alcohol; however, it might be a good idea to hold off on that post-workout beer until you have some time to rehydrate and digest your post-workout snack.
Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith. Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781–789. 2010.
Barnes, M. Alcohol: Impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Sports Med 44(7): 909-919, 2014.
Duplanty, A, Budnar R, Luk H, Levitt D, Hill D, McFarlin B, et al. Effect of acute alcohol ingestion on resistance exercise induced mTORC1 signaling in human muscle. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Published Ahead of Print, 2016.
Koziris, L. Alcohol and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine Current Comment. April, 2000.
Volpe, S. Alcohol and athletic performance. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 14(3): 28-30, 2010.
Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, et al. Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. 2014.