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The Impact of Alcohol on Muscle Building, Fat Loss, and Performance: Finding Balance for Optimal Results

As the allure of patio gatherings and social events entices us with refreshing cocktails, it’s essential to understand how alcohol can potentially hinder our progress. In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons why limiting alcohol intake might be beneficial and provide practical tips for finding a healthy balance.

Let’s start off with the reasons why we should perhaps limit alcohol consumption, especially if we have performance and or body composition goals:

Alcohol can contribute to weight gain

Alcohol is not free of calories; rather it contains empty calories. Alcohol will not provide you with any of the three essential macronutrients, and instead just contributes to your total daily caloric intake – with 7 calories per gram, compared to carbs and protein with 4 calories per gram and fats with 9 calories per gram. Alcohol is said to be the fourth macronutrient; however, it doesn’t provide any benefits physiologically and it is not essential. Keep in mind that when consuming excess calories, be that from protein, carbs, fats or alcohol, the body will store these calories as adipose tissue. Alcohol will affect our bodies’ ability to oxidize fats and promotes de novo lipogenesis, which is when excess carbs get converted into fatty acids. A calorie is a calorie at the end of the day, so if you are counting calories with the intention of either building muscle or losing fat, calories from alcohol aren’t going to be the wisest of choices. 

Alcohol can disrupt muscle growth

This is two for two reasons. One, the calories in alcohol aren’t going to help promote muscle protein synthesis (new muscle growth). The calories in alcohol won’t be used to repair or build new muscle; protein and mainly carbohydrates will do this. Furthermore, consuming alcohol disrupts our bodies’ normal digestive process, as the body will metabolize alcohol before the other macronutrients. This can also affect the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Two, your performance in the gym (which is going to help promote muscle growth) will be impaired. Many studies have shown that after a day of drinking, subjects’ performances in the gym during their subsequent sessions are suboptimal compared to previous sessions. This is true for both resistance training and cardiovascular training. 

Alcohol can interrupt your sleep

People will often report that they feel sleepy after consuming a few drinks, and think that drinking will improve one’s sleep, however that is not the case. Drinking actually impairs your sleep. You may be able to fall asleep, however the quality of sleep will be suboptimal and often very disrupted. Sleep is essential in order to optimize muscle building, fat loss and performance during your workout sessions. Without sleep, you truly are taking one step back in your potential to achieve your goals. 

Calories in typical drinks:

  • 12oz beer is approximately 100-200 calories 
  • 5oz wine is approximately 100-150 calories 
  • 1.5oz vodka/tequila/whiskey/rum/cognac is 100 calories

    ** mixed drinks like pina coladas, whiskey sours, long island iced teas, dark n stormys will equal to approximately 200-300 for one drink (usually around 4-5 oz) due to the sugar content of other ingredients.

If you do decide to partake in consuming alcohol in moderation, here are a few things to consider:

  • Stay hydrated – for every alcoholic beverage you consume, drink a glass of water
  • Be mindful of what you choose to consume – opt for hard alcohol or a dry wine (try to avoid sugary cocktails, beer and sweet wines) 
  • Drink in moderation – both for number of drinks and times per week (1-2 drinks, 1-2 days per week or every other week, once a month if you have serious goals) 
  • If having a drink, skip out on dessert 
  • Add an extra 3-5K steps on top of your normal step count 
  • Save some calories by decreasing fats throughout the day (don’t decrease from protein)
  • Drink the day before a rest day, compared to on workout day 

In conclusion, while enjoying an occasional drink can be part of a balanced lifestyle, it’s crucial to be mindful of alcohol’s impact on muscle building, fat loss, and performance. The empty calories and disruption to digestion can impede progress, and the interference with sleep further exacerbates the issue. However; if you choose to consume alcohol in moderation, there are practical strategies to mitigate its effects.

Staying hydrated, making mindful choices about what you drink, moderating the frequency and quantity of alcohol intake, and incorporating additional physical activity can help maintain balance. Remember, finding the right balance between enjoying a drink and pursuing your goals is key to achieving optimal results in your fitness journey.

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alcohol, calories, drinking, responsible consumption