So, I went out this weekend (BOO! Hiss!). We all know that all those drinks filled with carbs, stimulants and alcohol are incredibly bad for our health anyway. However, I noticed something this weekend that hadn’t been apparent before. I have just started a size cycle focusing on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (a topic for another day perhaps) and usually after I have trained chest and back I am left with a pump that lasts around 3 days. However, After training on saturday, and going out that night, I woke up sunday with a distinct lack of a pump and over the next two days feeling pretty weak. Weaker than usual at any rate! This depressing glance in the mirror triggered a thought about how alcohol affects muscle growth?
Now, we all know that alcohol dehydrates us, which means that that is probably why the pump did a runner over night. However, why did my body take longer to recover than the usual 24-48hour period? How had the Alcohol affected the muscle growth in my body? This led me to hit the journals and look for an answer; what I found was worrying and something that all coaches and athletes, and even you, should know!
How did they do it?
A group of scientists (Parr et al (2014)) wanted to know how alcohol affects muscle growth due to the trend in team sports to have a training session or match and then hit the pub to celebrate a job well done. They wanted to know what affect the alcohol had, if any, on their athletes recovery (aside from the hangover etc). They looked specifically at indicators and rates of muscle protein synthesis.
Parr et al believed that there were three types of players as follows (I have added my own brand of humour to this interpretation but the basis stands to reason).
- The Good Athlete – This athlete knows their nutrition and wants to maintain their spartan like body and so the only drinking they do is of protein shakes.
- The Guilty Athlete – This athlete gets caught up in the moment and smashes down a few bevies although, realising their mistake, makes sure they stick to their post workout recovery shakes.
- The Loves to Train on a Hangover Athlete – This athlete not only smashes down the bevies but also whacks in a post lash carby meal for good measure.
To simulate these types of athlete, Parr et al, had three groups:
- Protein shakes only
- Protein Shakes and Alcohol
- Alcohol and Carbohydrate Meal
What Parr et al found was that consuming alcohol post training, along with a post lash kebab, actually caused a 37% decrease in protein synthesis than if you were to follow your usual post workout protein supplement regime. I’ll let that sink in…
By going on the lash, and eating rubbish, the athletes recovery rate slowed by 37%. Effectively, if we use myself as an example, that means, if we work on the usual two day recovery period, it will take me another 18 hours to recover. Parr et al also found that if the athlete tried to follow their post workout nutrition as well as going on the lash, in an attempt to make up for this down time, the rate of protein synthesis was still 24% slower than normal; that is a extra 48% of a day (just under 12 hours). So, in answer to the question of “how does alcohol affect muscle growth?” the answer is badly, very badly.
“Who Cares?” I hear you cry! “Alcohol affects muscle growth by adding an extra day, so what!” you say!
Let’s look at this in a bigger picture. Any serious model or athlete will have a periodised plan. Where they have considered, usually, a two day recovery time between training the same muscles. This recovery time is planned in and nutrition is based to make sure that this time is as quick as possible so that super compensation can take place to make the muscles stronger before your next session.
By increasing the amount of time you take to recover you end up changing that super compensation zone. If this happens one of two things are going to happen. At best, you will just miss the over training window and will maintain strength or size and not progress. At worst, you will train before the muscle has reached the previous level of strength or size that it was before you last trained. If the latter happens, you have effectively started an overtraining cycle and your muscles will get weaker and weaker until you gain an injury or you have to take a forced period of recovery to get out of it.
So what would I do?
As far as I am concerned, I intend to stay off the beers whilst I am in training at least. As far as athletes and coaches are concerned the new tradition of binge drinking in team sports whilst in pre-season and competition training cycles needs to be addressed. For the every day gym goer; it is entirely your decision.
Remember, any gains in muscle growth you intended to make are going to be sacrificed if you do hit the sauce and if you choose to anyway then at least give yourself extra recovery time and remember to continue to sink the shakes whilst hungover.
I would really like to know your thoughts on this topic as it effects a massive amount of people from coaches to athletes to every day gym users. If you have an opinion please drop a comment in comment section below and I’ll respond as quickly as possible.
Parr. E. B., Camera. D. M., Areta. J. L., Burke. L. M., Phillips. S. M., Hawley. J. A., Coffey. G. E. (2014) Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLOS One. 9 (2) 1-9.