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Everything you need to know about drinking alcohol and building muscle

Are you someone who enjoys a drink or two after a workout at the gym? Perhaps you view a cold glass of beer as a suitable reward for hitting your fitness goals. If this sounds familiar, you may have wondered whether alcohol interferes with your muscle growth and, if so, how much and how often can you drink without compromising your gains?  

In this article, we’ll explore the effects of alcohol on muscle development, offering practical advice on minimising alcohol's influence on muscle growth. 

Can you build muscle and still drink alcohol? 

You’ll be pleased to hear that drinking small amounts of alcohol after a workout or between gym visits is not necessarily the end of the world. That said, the more you consume, the greater the impact on your muscle development, potentially resulting in the following: 

1. Disrupted sleep 

If you’ve ever tried to get motivated for a good workout after a poor night’s sleep, you’ll know how hard it is. Feeling sluggish and foggy-headed are never a great recipe for a good gym session. Rest is vital for your body to repair and regenerate your muscle tissue, as well as to release growth hormone, which is important for muscle development. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle, impairing your muscle recovery and growth, cognitive function and physical performance. 

 2. Disrupted protein synthesis 

Protein synthesis is the process of building new muscle tissue from amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Research suggests that alcohol consumption interferes with muscle protein synthesis, the effects of which can be long lasting even after any trace of alcohol has left your system.  

3. Alcohol induced insulin resistance 

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and facilitates the absorption of glucose and amino acids into muscle cells. Alcohol can interfere with the production of insulin and reduce its sensitivity, impacting the production of glucose and amino acids which are essential for muscle growth and recovery. 

4. Dehydration 

Alcohol causes the body to remove fluids from your blood through the renal system much more rapidly, leading to dehydration. This can impact muscle growth as well as blood flow and nutrient transport to the muscles, increasing the likelihood of muscle cramps, spasms and injuries.  

 Does drinking alcohol stop muscle growth? 

Having one or two glasses of alcohol a week will not stop muscle growth, but binge drinking over a sustained period can result in severe and lasting effects on your muscle gains, as well as your overall health and wellbeing. It can also lead to loss of muscle mass later in life. 

Can I continue drinking alcohol and still build muscle? 

Avoiding alcohol altogether is always the best way to protect your overall health, but drinking small amounts every now and then will have minimal risk on muscle growth. To further reduce impact, consider following these guidelines: 

1. Know your limit 

Stay within the NHS drinking guidelines by drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across three days or more. This is equivalent to six pints of 4% beer or six medium (175ml) glasses of wine. 

2. Stay hydrated 

Alternate your alcoholic drinks with water to stay hydrated and dilute the alcohol in your system. NHS guidelines state you should aim to drink six to eight glasses of water a day 

3. Choose drinks with low alcohol content

Opt for drinks with lower alcohol content (ABV), such as light beer or wine. If drinking spirits, choose low calorie mixers with ice to further dilute the alcohol.  

4. Avoid alcohol before bedtime 

While alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it is a notorious sleep disrupter, affecting your sleep rhythms and often resulting in a poor night’s sleep. According to Sleep Foundation, you should avoid drinking alcohol at least four hours before you go to bed. 

 5. Plan your workouts and recovery 

Avoid drinking directly before or after a workout, as this can impact your performance, recovery and muscle growth. Ideally, you should wait at least 24 hours after drinking before exercising, allowing your body to metabolise the alcohol. 

Want to reduce your alcohol intake? 

If you want to discover more ways to get fit and reduce your alcohol consumption, head over to our website where you’ll find a range of helpful tools and resources, all free of charge. You can also take our Rethink your Drink quiz to help you establish whether your relationship with alcohol is a cause for concern. Register with us today to learn more about our services and discover how LiveWell Dorset can help you. 

 Further reading 

How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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