This article is not set out to bamboozle you with the science and conflicting studies, but rather take into account experiences of my own, my clients, and cut through the fitness and wellness scare-mongering.
What is needed for muscle and strength gains?
Building muscle and strength is more complicated and arduous than losing fat, as you can cut fat simply by controlling your calories alone. To build muscle and strength you need to be in a consistent calorie surplus (consuming more energy from food than you are burning from activity each day), have consistent, adequate and evenly spaced out protein feeding, and to also continually increase the total volume of your weights sessions over time.
- A good daily protein target for muscle gain is roughly around 2g per kilogram of bodyweight, spaced out over 4-5 meals throughout the day.
- Total volume = (sets x reps) x weight
- Total volume is most sustainably and effectively increased by lifting more weight over time, and this method of increasing the stimulus (weight lifted) to force adaptations by the body is called progressive overload.
How can alcohol negatively affect building muscle and strength?
Small, infrequent amounts of alcohol will not cause detriment to your health or training. However, large, concentrated and regular intake/binges may have the following effects on your training:
- It can make you miss sessions due to a hangover, which will slow strength gains, and in turn slow your muscle gains. Strength requires good and improving skill and technique, as well as being dependent on the ability to generate power and cross-sectional muscle size – so missing sessions will impact upon all these factors, as well as your confidence, negatively.
- Lower intensity sessions lead to you lifting less weight, which reduces total volume, hindering progressive overload.
- Exercise selection is likely to be influenced by how you are feeling, and if this is a bit under the weather thanks to ‘one too many’ then you will likely select less taxing and more static movements. I.e. a machine instead of a barbell or dumbbells, and arms instead of big compounds (squats, deadlifts, pull ups, etc) or leg workouts.
- Progressive overload will not be adhered to if you are getting drunk multiple times per week, thanks to the reasons mentioned above. Often you will just go through the motions so to speak, whereas if you were fresh and fuelled properly there would be a higher chance of a systematic, goal-based session.
- Injury is more likely if you are intoxicated, so do not train after more than 1-2 drinks. The same is true of the morning after a big (drinking) session, where your coordination and reactions may still be impaired by the remaining alcohol in your system. Dehydration can also contribute to injury, which is likely the morning/day after drinking.
In regards to your nutrition, binging on alcohol can cause the below:
- The consistency of your calorie intake will likely be impacted; with less meals on the day you are drinking, and similarly the next day. This can cause you to be in a calorie deficit for the week, and stop you building muscle – even with the correct training and rest.
- Insufficient protein intake due to reduced meals on the day of and after drinking is likely. As well as poor quality of protein if you give in to the temptation of takeways!
- Reduced quality of food choices being impacted can have affect performance, increasing feelings of lethargy resulting in lower intensity sessions.
- Protein feeding could be erratically spaced out, rather than a similar amount every 3-5 hours. This isn’t optimal for building muscle size and strength.
- Binging on alcohol too regularly can lead to lots of health issues, gaining unwanted fat, hindering muscle and strength gains and other unwanted side-effects. It is sensible to moderate intake, and try not to get absolutely smashed more than once a week.
Ultimately alcohol doesn’t need to be banned, and coaches and/or people who recommend going tee-total usually lack knowledge on both training, nutrition as well as real life scenarios with friends, family and work events. It can be enjoyed in moderation and factored into your calories, and you can have a big night out without it ‘killing your muscle’.
If you do get hammered more than 1-2 times per week on average, then this will likely be impacting your muscle and strength progress negatively. There is no sugar-coating the fact that binging on a poison is going to impact physical activity when it reaches a certain level and frequency, so you can use the below tactics to reduce these negative effects:
- Plan your rest day(s) to be the day after a big night out. This means you don’t end up having an unplanned rest day, missing sessions, or training when you feel like death.
- Follow a structured and progressive training/nutrition guide, such as the Muscle Building Bible. This also comes with a workout log, so you know what exercises, sets, reps and weights you should be lifting.
- Prep your food for the day after your drinking session, and keep this calorie dense and liquid initially if you are likely to be feeling rough.
Our Muscle Building Bible, as well as our male and female fat loss guides, are not restrictive and do not ban any foods or drinks. We have in depth nutrition and lifestyle sections, specifically discussing alcohol, nights out, meals out, weekends away and holidays too. Our guides are genuinely sustainable and educative in the fact they enable you to learn how to fit training and nutrition into a lifestyle you enjoy – rather than build life around food prep and endless HIIT!
Read more about alcohol and fat loss here.
Read more about meals out and fat loss here.
Read about flexible dieting and its benefits over clean eating here.