The effect of alcohol on muscle growth in men


Most (not all) men like a drink, and most (not all) men want gains but, alcohol hurts your gains. To decide if the price is worth paying you need to know the sum of the damage. The research is out, the question is what is the effect of alcohol on muscle growth in men and here is the answer,

As with life itself the story of the effect of alcohol on muscle growth in men starts in the testicles.

Alcohol & your testes: A forbidden love that wasn’t meant to be?

Fact: Testosterone is good for muscle growth. It directly tells your muscle cells to grow (true for both males and females)

Unfortunately, alcohol is not good for your testosterone if you are male, but what is the effect of alcohol on muscle growth in men?

Alcohol is directly toxic to the Leydig cells in your nads, which are testosterone-producing. In the long run this toxicity may even cause atrophy of the testes (shrinkage). Unsurprisingly this would also direct reduce their capacity to produce testosterone and pump out the good stuff.

Alcohol can also increase the conversion of testosterone to oestrogen in the liver, which leaves less of it in circulation..

Surprisingly though, light drinking (1-2 drinks) actually increases testosterone in the hours following..

Before mixing your post-workout whey’d protein shakes with whiskey you should know marginally higher doses of 3-5 drinks will lower testosterone levels by 18-40%. Fortunately your testosterone production normally bounces back to normal levels within a day of this light boozing.

And if you pull a real shift?

Realistically though this is England. The land where ‘a quiet pint’ is code for let’s I’ll be home by 5(am) with kebab in my shoes. So what happens if you really commit to a night on the drink? Well, unsurprisingly things get much much worse.

A spree of 6+ drinks can immediately tank your testosterone levels by 45%+. The next day you’ll still be 23% down on your man juice. That is comparable to going from the testosterone levels of a 30 year old man to a 60 year old man in a few hours.

To summarise on the effects of alcohol on testosterone levels

A few drinks per day will have a small effect on your hormones with a less than 10% decrease in testosterone production (still notable). When you toward double digits on the daily your testosterone drops massively (25-55%) but you’ve definitely got more serious issues than gains at this point.

What is the effect of alcohol on muscle growth
What is the effect of alcohol on muscle protein synthesis?

On a side note, running to the pub, or doing exhaustive cardio before binge drinking will further prolong the depressing effects of alcohol on testosterone.

How does this effect muscle growth?

Testosterone tells your muscles to grow via the mTOR signalling pathway. As alcohol decreases testosterone it should be unsurprising that alcohol also decreases mTOR activity. With an ounce of common sense it is no surprise to learn that muscle growth itself is impaired after alcohol consumption. Specifically, 9 servings of alcohol post-workout decrease myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) by 24%.

How bad is a 24% decrease in myofibrillar protein synthesis? Very bad. But as a scientific reference, going from maintenance energy intake into a 40% caloric deficit along with a 0.1 g/kg decrease in protein intake (1.3 vs. 1.2) has been found to result in a 36% decrease in myofibrillar protein synthesis. So getting arse over tit drunk on a night out has a comparable effect on your muscle growth as if you spent that day cutting.

Alcohol’s effects on testosterone, mTOR and MPS are comparable to its effects on recovery after exercise. Light drinking, of up to 3 standard drinks doesn’t seem to affect recovery from even very muscle-damaging exercise at all.

Around 6 standard drinks did not affect strength recovery but did lower testosterone

7+ drinks post workout resulted in 11-19% worse strength decrements compared to drinking orange juice.

Conclusion: What is the effect of alcohol on muscle growth in men?

In men, alcohol reduces testosterone production because alcohol is toxic for the testicles. This effect corresponds to reduced muscle protein synthesis, muscular recovery and anabolic signaling. Dose depicts damage. A single glass of wine will do basically zero damage. Up to a few drinks a day, the damage is still small, arguably trivial. A night out of partying will affect muscle growth similarly to if you were 30 years older. Even then though, you can most likely still build muscle and strength the rest of the week. Behave that way a couple of times per week though and you will most definitely be in trouble.

Read now: Do you really need protein powder?

Related post: What are the effects of alcohol on muscle gain in women?

Coming soon: What are the effects of alcohol on fat loss in men?

Coming soon: What are the effects of alcohol on fat loss in women?


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