Thank God it's Friday. That's right, the weekend has begun, and for the average teen, what do we do on weekends? PARTY! And let's face it, despite what you tell your parents, what do parties center around? Beer! In college, social lives pretty much revolve around alcohol. Just about everyone in college drinks, many go into college saying they won't, few uphold that promise.
As bodybuilders, our bodies are our lives. We eat right throughout the week, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, stay as healthy as possible, and of course, workout. We put all these efforts into ourselves throughout the week, but on weekends we drink like fish and get sh!t faced.
How Alcohol Diminishes Muscle Gain
I used to drink heavily on party nights too, until a couple weeks ago when I realized just how much getting drunk was hurting my gains. I'm hoping that after you've read this article, for those of you that drink, you will see just how detrimental alcohol is to building muscle and hopefully cut down on drinking.
Alcohol is empty calories. It doesn't have any nutrients, but does have a caloric value of 7 calories per gram. In just one shot (1.5oz) of 80 proof vodka there's nearly 100 calories. For those of you trying to lose fat, forget it if you are drinking. Not only will the high calorie content of alcohol have a negative effect on your total calorie intake, but it also slows down your metabolism by disrupting the Kreb's cycle.
Since the Kreb's cycle isn't working correctly, fats cannot be broken down. In short, your body is trying so hard to digest and metabolize the alcohol, that fat burning stops all together.
Alcohol consumption also hurts muscle growth. Not only due to hangovers lowering your workout intensity, but it actually lowers protein synthesis by 20%. Twenty percent! There are several reasons why it does this. For one, it dehydrates your muscle cells. As many know, hydrated and even over hydrated muscles (like when you take creatine) allows for a much higher anabolic environment.
Because your cells aren't holding as much water, it becomes much harder to build muscle. The second reason why alcohol can severely hurt muscle growth is because it blocks the absorption of many important nutrients that are key to muscle contraction, relaxation and growth including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium.
Slows Down Protein Synthesis
OK, so above I lied, there's actually a third way that alcohol slows down protein synthesis, I just wanted to dedicate a big part of this article to it. For those of you that don't already know this, ALCOHOL LOWERS TESTOSTERONE AND INCREASES ESTROGEN! Yes, you read that right. In one particular study, men's testosterone levels were measured before and after consumption of alcohol.
Lowers Testosterone Levels
At the most intoxicated state, testosterone levels had dropped to an average of 25% lower. It was also interesting to note, that when blood alcohol levels were the highest, testosterone was at its lowest. Alcohol has also been shown to cause a quicker aromatization of androgens into estrogens, which would explain why heavy drinkers often get gynecomastria (bitch tits) over a period of time.
For those of you taking andro (and I'm sure you already know my views on andro) I would absolutely avoid alcohol since you already are in risk for gynecomastia with the high androgen levels in your blood. By drinking, you are further putting yourself in risk for aromatization. We should also note, that in a study done with rats, alcohol reduced Insulin like Growth Hormone-1 (IGF-1) by up to 42%. That's a huge drop in IGF-1.
One thing I found unusual due to the drop in testosterone while drinking is that most guys get really horny. Beyond getting beer goggles, why is it that drinking makes you horny? What I found out is that because alcohol lowers testosterone levels so significantly, the body is struggling to bring them back up by releasing LH, in very large quantities.
What's also interesting to note is that LH is just as responsible for arousal as testosterone. Unfortunately alcohol reduces testosterone levels at the Leydig cell, not the pituitary, so the LH is ineffective in raising testosterone levels.
A Personal Problem
Rather than just spitting facts at you, I'd like to take the time to talk about how drinking has affected my lifting. Before coming to college I drank maybe 3-or-4 times in my entire life. My diet was always perfect, every day of the week, even on weekends. On the first night of college however, I discovered just how tasty (and fun) beer was.
After that I'd drink every weekend, never on the night before a workout, but none-the-less every weekend. My diet was decent during the week (well, the best I could do with college food), but on weekends I'd wake up late missing at least 2 meals, and often only get 3-4 meals in on those days. Because of the lack of protein, reduction in test levels on those drinking nights and the catabolism due to the alcohol my gains suffered.
I went into college last year at about 185 lbs and came out around 205. After cutting up for the summer, I was a lean 195. Had I not drank every weekend, I think I could have added about 10 more pounds of mass.
This year I refuse to make the same mistake. As bodybuilders we are always learning. One thing I've learned is that alcohol affects your gains, and in a negative way. This year I will stay sober. I still plan on drinking, but I'll limit myself to a beer an hour, and no more than 3 or 4 a night. I suggest those of you in college who are serious about improving your physiques do the same. Maybe once a month I'll allow myself to get trashed.
Five Helpful Tips
So, what if it is that time of the month where you hand the keys to someone else and get bombed? Here are some simple hints as how to keep as much muscle as possible from that week while still having fun:
1 Bedside Water
Leave at least 2 liters of water by your bedside to drink when you get home before you go to bed.
Not only will this prevent a hangover, but it will also help to hydrate your muscles.
Drink a protein shake or eat something dense in protein before climbing into bed as well (if you can still stand). This will help curb the catabolism occurring inside your body, not to mention you always need protein.
3 ZMA and Glutamine
45 minutes to an hour before breakfast have a serving of ZMA and 5-10 grams of glutamine. The ZMA will naturally raise your testosterone levels that were lowered from your night of drinking, and the glutamine will help stop catabolism.
4 Big Breakfast
Let's face it, alcohol is fun, real fun. It makes fat girls attractive, gets ugly guys laid, gives the skinny, shy kid confidence to stand up and make a fool of himself, and helps uncoordinated, white guys like me dance. Unfortunately, it also reduces testosterone among all the other negative things mentioned earlier in this article. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have fun, don't be afraid to go out and have a good time. I've seen way too many bodybuilders who stay in on weekends. Go out, drink a few beers, have a good time, just keep it in moderation.