Alcohol and Muscle Gain/ Fat Loss

Here’s one I get asked about a lot.  There’s a lot myths (as with most things in fitness) about drinking, fat loss and muscle gain.  Is going out on the weekend going to ruin your progress and put you back to square one? Or is it not as bad as they say.  Hopefully I can clear it up a little for you here.
The first thing to mention is the calories in alcohol.  Most people think alcohol is more calorific than it actually it is.  Most pints of beer or cider is going to get you about 200kcal.  Now this isn’t much per pint, but if you’re going to have a big night then realistically you’re looking at anywhere from 8-12 pints plus, and that’s going to rack up anywhere from 1600kcal to 2400kcal.

Most of these calories come from the alcohol itself and not the carbohydrates.  Beers and ciders are generally low/moderate in carbohydrates at around 15g per pint.  From this you can see that with significant drinking, it is easy to go over your caloric requirements for the day with a mixture of foods and alcohol and fat gain can occur.

Alcohol is also often said to significantly lower testosterone levels in men, which is completely untrue.  Recent studies have shown that after a 3 week test period, a test group of men drinking 3 beers per day (around 40g alcohol) for the entire 3 weeks had a testosterone drop of around 7%.   If after 3 weeks of 3 beers per day the testosterone drop was only 7%, you can see a night out once per week isn’t going to drop your testosterone levels by any worrying amount.

Its effect on protein synthesis is very under researched and the only papers I have found on humans have been on alcohol dependency studies which are not a great source due to years of alcohol abuse and poor nutrition contaminating the results of the protein synthesis parts.

Alcohol does however inhibit fat oxidisation in the same way carbohydrates do, meaning a higher percentage of fatty acids will be transported and stored in fat cells when you are drinking, this combined with the junk food often associated with a night out is where the damage is done, especially the next day when the hangover junk food cure comes along while you still have plenty of alcohol in your system.

There is a saving grace though, and that is that alcohol is almost incapable of being converted into fat cells by any known pathway, meaning that we can limit the damage of drinking by following a few steps:

Before the Night Out

On the day of your night out, try to avoid fats and carbohydrates all day if possible, while eating as much lean protein as you like.  Remember alcohol inhibits fat oxidisation, so if we have no fat in the blood, it has nothing to inhibit.  Any carbs should come from vegetable sources.

During the Night Out

Dry wines and spirits are lower in carbohydrates and therefore calories than most other choices so will reduce the risk of hypercaloric intake. Here are a few popular drinks and their calories.

Drink

Calories (Kcal)
Vodka, single 56
330ml bottle diet alcopop 90-120
330ml bottle larger 100-130
Vodka, double 112
Double gin and slimline tonic 115
Double vodka and diet mixer 115-125
Double vodka, lime and soda 130
Small glass of wine 110-130
Small glass of champagne/sparkling wine 130-140
Jagerbomb 160
Large glass of wine 170-190
Double vodka coke 175
Double gin and tonic 175
330ml bottle alcopop 180-220
Pint larger 190-240
Guinness 210
Double vodka and half can of red bull 280-300

Try and avoid junk food after a night out! Possibly the hardest part due to alcohol calories having no satiety effecting properties. When you get home try to drink a pint of water before you go to bed, this will help hydrate you and help prevent a banging headache in the morning.

The next Day

When finally getting into bed the good nights sleep you were looking for isn’t going to be so great. Drinking alcohol prevents your body from going into a deep sleep so your hormones wont be regulated properly and you will not be fully rested. Taking a nap throughout the day can help get back some much-needed recovery.

Once awake drink another pint of water and keep consuming it a lot throughout the day so you stay hydrated. Take a multivitamin and green tea because it takes anti-oxygen’s out of the body and your body certainly doesn’t want alcohol in it!

When you feel like you can stomach food a healthy meal is defiantly a better choice than the usual McDonalds. A bacon sandwich and a banana will certainly help as bacon is scientifically proven to help cure a hangover. If you take these steps then you can limit the effects alcohol will have on your diet.

The mental aspect of alcohol however is a completely different kettle of fish and will vary from person to person.  Personally I find it affects my attitude towards training sessions for the next few days after a night drinking and I can never give 100% after.  It’s also a depressant which will affect the intensity of your workouts.  For these reasons I choose to avoid alcohol completely as much as possible.  Not for the effect it will have on my body but the effect it has on my training.

In summary if you’re sound of mind, and take the precautions above then you can still enjoy a healthy social life with alcohol, and don’t need to worry about it affecting your goals a huge amount, and it hasn’t undone the hard work you’ve put in that week.