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Alcoholic drinks seem to uplift your mood: you feel better about yourself, you can relax better, and you can fall asleep more easily. Everyone enjoys a nice cold beer or a glass of red wine once in a while. Nothing is wrong with that until you want to go to the gym the next day, fresh and fruity. We all know that the combination of having a hangover and exercising optimally is impossible. But why is the combination of sports and alcohol so bad for you? And what does alcohol do to your muscles? We will explain it to you!
Alcohol and muscle building
It is no surprise that alcohol is bad for muscle building. If you do strength training, you know that all too well. Nevertheless, there are various stories on the internet about the effects of alcohol on your muscles. An American study¹ has shown that the intake of 8 to 10 alcoholic drinks causes an extra increase in testosterone levels (therefore, it may be good for muscle building). But actually, this has to do with a specific receptor. A complex story, of which the conclusion is clear: sports and alcohol are NOT a good combination.
What does alcohol do to your muscles?
Alcohol adversely affects the muscles for several reasons:
Sleep: You usually fall asleep fast if you've been drinking a lot. So it seems like a good night's sleep, but the opposite is true. Alcohol ensures that you sleep poorly and that your muscles can not recover well. This is because the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released during sleep. Alcohol ensures that this hormone is produced less and that your muscles recover less quickly. And we all know that the growth of your muscles goes hand in hand with how fast your muscles recover.
Testosterone: In men, alcohol lowers testosterone levels, and this hormone is essential for muscle growth. There is nothing wrong with two or three beers, but your testosterone level drops considerably as soon as you consume more than five beers in a short time. It works differently with women. In women, alcohol produces more testosterone and lowers the estrogen level. However, that does not mean alcohol is good for women's muscle building.
Dehydration: You know that feeling of extreme thirst in the morning after a night of heavy drinking? That is not a big surprise because alcohol dehydrates your body. Your muscles consist of 75% water. By drinking alcohol and therefore drying out your muscles, your muscles will function less. One of the solutions is to drink plenty of water while consuming alcohol.
Cortisol: We all sometimes suffer from stress caused by the well-known stress hormone cortisol. While there is still a difference between men and women in testosterone rise, cortisol rises after drinking alcohol for both of them. Cortisol can increase blood pressure and, in the longer term, affect certain bodily functions such as digestion and bone growth. Moreover, drinking alcohol can influence your mental state and cause unnecessary stress.
More muscle soreness: If you drink alcohol immediately after exercise, you are more likely to have muscle soreness the next day. During training, lactic acid is created in the muscles, and your muscles work hard to clean this up after exercise. Suppose you drink alcohol after a workout; then your body is busy breaking it down, not with the lactic acid. Because this lactic acid lingers longer in your muscles, you will suffer from muscle pain more quickly.
Sugar shortage: During exercise, your body uses sugars. Sugars are converted into energy. Drinking alcohol causes you to consume even more sugar because the breakdown of alcohol uses energy. So you can feel extra drowsy after exercising and drinking alcohol due to sugar shortage.
Why it's not a good idea to drink alcohol before exercising
Drinking alcohol just before exercising is also not a good idea. It increases the risk of injuries, and it lowers your energy. We'll explain it to you:
1. A bad condition and low energy level:
Drinking alcohol—but especially when the alcohol starts to break down—makes you feel lousy. You feel energetic at first, but then your energy drops to zero. It is, therefore, not a good idea to go to the gym after drinking. As a result, your condition is less, and you have less energy for strength training.
2. Increases the chance of injuries:
After a few beers, you suddenly feel like going for leg day. So let's go to the gym and let's rock it! That's the worst idea of the year, we can tell you. Alcohol is a narcotic drug; therefore, you feel less quickly that you are in pain. And especially if you regularly let the hated leg day pass you by, you will be less able to handle your limits, and you can get annoying injuries.
All in all, drinking alcohol just before exercise might feel good for 1 minute, but you'll regret it afterwards!
Can I drink just that one beer or wine?
That excessive drinking in the pub is terrible for your health is a fact. The question remains whether you can have that one glass of wine or beer during the Friday afternoon drink. The good news is that the effects of alcohol on your muscles only become visible if you drink alcohol excessively. It's not wise to spend two nights every weekend in the pub and get completely drunk, but that one wine during dinner must be fine! Enjoying life is also important, and we know better than anyone how lovely a tasty alcoholic drink can be from time to time. If you can't stand the temptations of alcohol, and can't stick to that one wine, then you better consider stopping completely. And remember one thing: never rush into the gym after drinking a beer, then it's even better to head back to the pub.