Research has shown that drinking alcohol can cause setbacks in muscle gains and reaching your fitness goals. This is because alcohol reduces myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) capacity in the body.
When you exercise, muscles undergo stress and become stretched and damaged, and need protein to ensure the repair of these muscles-which the MPS does.
Alcohol impairs this synthesis and actually contributes to more protein breakdown, and can actually circumvent any protein synthesis that was done by eating well.
Drinking alcohol can also impair our normal hormone and metabolic functioning, resulting in an impaired ability for our body to burn or reduce fat, no matter how much exercise has been done.
In fact, alcohol interferes with these processes no matter how nutritionally sound your diet is or how much sleep you get.
Alcohol creates inflammation in the body which impacts the immune system which in turn can affect your performance and overall recovery as it also affects sleep and sleep cycles in a negative fashion.
However, it is not all doom and gloom, there are some positive health benefits linked to the moderate consumption of alcohol.
For instance, it has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol, reduce insulin resistance and stress levels. When deciding on whether or not to drink alcohol on a night out or when you just want to have a bit of a drink in a social setting, it is really about making the best informed choice and consuming alcohol in moderation.
This means sticking to a couple of handy rules and tips that will allow you to be social and drink without having the massive cost to your muscle gains. In no particular order, here it goes.
Rule 1: Go For The Better Alcohol Types
When deciding on what alcohol to drink, it is important to consider what you are putting into your body.
Most mixed drinks that use mixers with harder alcohol such as coke or lemonade with vodka, as an example, are loaded with sugars and other artificial chemicals like additives, flavorings or colorants. If you are choosing to use a mixer, go with something like club soda, which has less sugar and overall calories than most soda mixers.
Beer is also a no-no if you are trying to maintain your gains. Beer is full of calories as the carbohydrates get converted into sugar and will eventually get stored as fat if you drink more than one at any given time. Ciders are the same story, especially mass-produced ones.
Some craft ciders are okay in terms of calories and sugar content, but best to stay clear or to limit yourself to a couple as these beverages are worse than wine or whiskey.
Instead, stick to purer types of alcohol like wine, gin, whiskey and vodka - straight up. They are low in calories, and they are generally more expensive to buy, so you will invariably consume less as it will cost more for you to have a good time-therefore making them self-limiting.
Their distillation and purification processes involving fine ingredients mean that their end products are of higher quality than say your average six-pack of beer from your liquor store.
Rule 2: Drink Lots Of Water
In general, it is good to keep hydrated but when you are drinking alcohol, it is even more so to do so before, during and after drinking.
It is recommended to have a glass of water in between each glass of alcoholic beverage consumed. Then, after your event, keep a bottle of water next to your bed at night to ensure you are able to quench your thirst quickly.
Rule 3: Eat Before Or Not At All
If your goal for the night is to drink to get drunk, then you should do it on an empty stomach. With nothing lining your stomach to absorb the alcohol, you will get drunk much faster with fewer drinks than anyone else, and fewer drinks means fewer calories.
Typically, after a night of drinking, we tend to seek out food to absorb the alcohol in our gut. The food that is normally available are greasy, high-calorie meals like pizza, burgers or tacos which are easily adding another 2000 calories to your daily intake.
So you should either eat beforehand or cook something less calorific in advance for you to eat when you get home.
Rule 4: Don’t Compromise On Sleep
Bottom line, do not participate in the whole “go big or go home” mentality.
That’s right, go home. Stay and enjoy your drinks but get home and into bed at a decent time so that you can get a full night’s rest instead of pulling an all-nighter and going to work the next day.
This behavior will put stress on your body and will not help your fitness situation.
Rule 5: Don't Do It Every Day
Of all the rules, this is probably the most important one of all. When you drink, do it in moderation and also not all the time. It is okay to have a drink or two on a special occasion but not to have a cheat day every day.
Because alcohol reduces protein synthesis, it is critical to not try to bulk and drink at the same time, as the bulking with protein will be pointless. The alcohol will only inhibit and disrupt protein conversion into muscle mass.
Additionally, you should only drink when you are cutting or maintaining weight and not trying to bulk up- so the negative effects of alcohol will not be as severe.
When drinking, it is essential to try to do it on rest days, or at least to try and separate your workout as far out from the drinking as possible.
As we know, drinking negatively affects protein synthesis and recovery processes like sleep, so it is best to move these out as much as possible from one another.
Other Tips To Try
Try to add calories for calories to stay within your daily calorie intake.
To know how much you should drink in a night, all that is required is some simple math to work out how much is an appropriate amount without completely overdoing it.
For example, 1 beer is 150 calories which is 16 g of fat and equals 37 g of carbs.
So if you are planning on having two beers (300 calories), then you can take away about 150 calories worth of fat and 150 calories worth of carbohydrates from your daily meal to balance out the calories that you will be adding by drinking those beers.
Another tip to keep in mind is to try and limit your fat intake before going out drinking. This is because when you drink alcohol, your body makes a priority to get rid of it and ignores any other fat you may have in your body already.
So if you have had a high fat meal before drinking, then all the fatty acids that are in your body will be stored as fat.
You can achieve the body that you want without becoming a total social outcast or giving yourself insane dietary restrictions, and you should not have to worry about the occasional drink.
However, when you do drink, limit this to no more than two or three drinks and leave plenty of time between workouts and alcohol consumption to lessen the impact alcohol has on protein synthesis.
Additionally, try to choose sensible alcohol choices that are not laced with sugar to keep calories down. Remember to take it easy and go to bed at reasonable times after a night out so that your body has a chance to recover.
By sticking to the above rules, you are almost guaranteed to have minimal impact on the body from the consumption of alcohol, and remember that moderation is key in this situation.