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August 13, 2016

The effects of alcohol and bodybuilding

Andrew McInroy, B.Sc. Nutrition

This article will be dedicated to the detrimental effects of binge drinking AKA going out and getting drunk. In today’s society, almost everyone drinks and they often drink too much. There are many reasons people drink, including trying to fit in. Don’t be a follower, be a leader. If you want to achieve huge muscles and ripped abs, I guarantee vodka, rum, beer, etc. is not the way to do it. If you want to work out through the week and get drunk on the weekends and end up looking like a joke, that’s up to you. If you eat and drink like everyone else, you will look like everyone else. To get your dream physique, you have to dedicate every breath in your body, and this means excluding alcohol. After reading this article, there is no doubt you will be motivated to change. The facts: alcohol decreases protein synthesis and increases fat storage. Let’s look at why.

Alcohols are a group of organic compounds but the one we will be focusing on for this article is the one that is used in alcoholic beverages: ethanol – but we will of course refer to it as “alcohol” for simplicity. As we all know, when your blood alcohol increases, you reach the state of “drunk” which results in decreased attention and reaction speed. But let’s talk about how alcohol destroys your chances of being your best.


As you have probably noticed, when you’re drinking alcohol, you have to use the bathroom a lot more! This is because alcohol is a potent diuretic meaning that it causes water loss from the body. This can ultimately lead to dehydration. Athletic performance is significantly decreased once we experience 2% dehydration. Water is extremely important for performance because it: transports nutrients and waste byproducts, it’s important for metabolic reactions, needed for water soluble vitamins, lubrication, and it’s a body temperature regulator and blood volume regulator. When we become dehydrated here are some things that happen: decreased muscle blood flow, blood volume decreases, temperature increases, and fatigue. Now you know why you are so thirsty during your hang over!

Decreased Protein Synthesis

Protein synthesis is essentially the building up of muscle tissue. When you have a lot of protein synthesis, you get bigger muscles and better recovery. When you increase the volume of a muscle cell, you increase protein synthesis! This is why creatine works so well for gaining muscle; it has an osmotic loading effect on the muscles which means that it pulls water into the muscle and thus increases the cell volume. When muscle cells lose water, protein synthesis is significantly decreased. As you now know, alcohol is a potent diuretic that can not only lead to symptoms of dehydration, it can also decrease protein synthesis! Hey guys, you might have worked really hard all week but if you’re out getting drunk on the weekends, you’re going to be pissing away your gains! LITERALLY!

Decreased Testosterone!

Excessive alcohol decreases testosterone production and also inhibits sperm production and function. For one thing this obviously impairs fertility, but when you decrease your testosterone, you decrease your gains. Testosterone increases muscle size, strength, speed, libido, and also helps to burn fat – any athlete would be crazy to want to decrease testosterone production!

Increased Estrogen and Gyno!

It is well known that alcohol increases estrogen levels. Estrogen is the female hormone and men do not want more of it. It can lead to decreased muscle gains and increased fat storage. Alcohol also stimulates estrogen receptor sites – some of these receptors are found in the nipple area. What this can lead to is gynecomastia which is essentially what we call “bitch tits”. Ever seen the party guy with little man boobs? Not so cool anymore is he.


Drinking alcohol leads to the production of two toxic compounds: malondialdehyde and acetaldehyde. These are potent free-radical agents that can have negative effects on liver function and also damage the central nervous system. Many people like to make jokes about damaging their liver because of their excessive drinking – yeah because cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer are really cool!

Alcohol Makes You Fat

Not only does alcohol decrease protein synthesis (muscle is metabolically active tissue which helps to burn fat), decreases testosterone (testosterone helps to burn fat), and increases estrogen (which increases fat gains), it also decreases lipid oxidation (fat burning). How much? In one study, fat burning dropped by 73%! Also on top of this, alcohol contributes 7 calories per gram. This can add up pretty quick! For instance, a can of beer can have around 150 calories – just think about how many cans of beer you have seen some people drink. Having just 5 cans of beer can put you up to 750 calories! Also, alcohol increases appetite – that’s why pizza places are loaded up with drunk people after the bar. What a synergy of factors to make you a fatty!

GH, IGF-1, Insulin

These are some of the most anabolic hormones that our body releases. And you guessed it! Alcohol also has negative effects on their properties. If you negatively affect these hormones, you will interfere with your performance and have decreased recovery, decreased strength and decreased muscle gains.

Alcohol Recommendations

There is some research to indicate the positive health effects of alcohol consumption. As one study showed, a half a glass to a full glass of wine per day decreased risk of coronary heart disease in men over 40 and women who went through menopause. Research shows that this positive effect on cardiovascular health is due to alcohol’s ability to increase good cholesterol, decrease bad cholesterol, decrease blood clotting, reduce blood pressure, increase coronary blood flow as well as other positive effects. This may seem confusing to some people; should you totally avoid alcohol or should you include some wine for health? In my opinion, you should consult with your physician – is your goal ultimate performance or is it health? You can decide. But one thing is for sure: there is no place for getting drunk. Before all you health gurus go on to claim that alcohol is healthy, just remember that in the U.S. in 2001 that the CDC estimated medium and high consumption of alcohol led to 75,754 deaths. Not to mention, there are countless injuries and families that are broken up due in part to alcohol abuse.

The Hangover

Ever try to perform your best with a hang over? It’s not going to happen. As most people will tell you, they feel weaker, sluggish, and fatigued. Just the feelings alone should be enough to motivate you to not drink. But now with your knowledge of everything above, you should be beyond motivated.


A lot of people ask me why I don’t drink – I could give you a speech or I could just tell you it’s because I am an athlete and a weightlifter and I want to be my best. But people don’t get that. They want to drink because it helps them fit in, gives them liquid confidence, makes it so they can more easily socialize. Do you need alcohol to have fun? Don’t be a weakling and don’t give in to the social norm. If you want to be the best you can be, get maximum muscle and strength gains then you need to stay away from getting drunk. But on the other hand, if you need it to be cool, then that’s fine. Go ahead and be cool but I hope you enjoy the decreased testosterone, decreased protein synthesis, increased estrogen (and potentially man boobs!), dehydration, decreased performance, negative effects on other anabolic hormones, and getting fatter! Yeah I just said it. Thank God it’s Friday? Nah thank God it’s deadlift day.

Courtesy of Andrew McInroy, B.Sc. Nutrition