Alcohol and Fitness

Alcohol… and fitness?

Be honest:

Have you ever thought you would see the two in the same sentence?

It always seems like we should choose one or the other.

“If you enjoy alcohol, by all means, have at it. But don’t expect to get fit!”

But is this true? Is alcohol genuinely detrimental to our fitness efforts?

Let’s discuss.


Why Do People Fear Alcohol So Much?

There are many reasons why some people feel uneasy about the topic of alcohol. But as far as fitness is concerned, the biggest issue has to do with fat loss.

Prevailing wisdom suggests that alcohol leads to fat gain and stops us from losing fat, even if we are on a good diet, so let’s break it down.

To gain fat, we need to be in a calorie surplus. In other words, we need to consume more calories than we burn each day. In doing so, the body has more than enough energy to carry out its tasks, so the excess gets stored in the form of fat and lean tissue.

The mere consumption of alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in a calorie surplus. Thus, it doesn’t mean you’ll gain weight.

To lose fat, we need to be in a calorie deficit. This is opposite to the surplus and means consuming fewer calories than we burn. In doing so, the body has no choice but to break down fat tissue to get the remaining energy it needs to function.

And yes, you guessed it: Merely consuming alcohol doesn’t mean we can’t be in a calorie deficit and losing fat.

So, as far as fat loss and gain are concerned, our overall calorie intake matters most.


But What About Alcohol and Muscle Growth?

Okay, you might be thinking, “Sure, alcohol might not be bad for fat loss. But I’ve heard that it wastes my muscle mass! What gives?”

First of all, take a deep breath. Secondly, read on.

The idea that alcohol leads to muscle loss mostly comes from a couple of studies that found a correlation between alcohol and a drop in testosterone levels. And, given that testosterone is the hormone for muscle growth, people have naturally made this connection.

But here’s the thing:

First off, one of these studies only found a drop of six percent in testosterone levels. For example, if these men usually had T levels at an average of 600 ng/dL, they ended up with just over 560 ng/dL after a few weeks of regular alcohol consumption. That’s such a slight difference that it wouldn’t make any difference in the real world.

Second, in one of these studies, subjects had to consume huge amounts of alcohol for days in a row. Of course that would lead to drops in testosterone. But even then, testosterone isn’t the primary issue but things like:

  • Constantly dealing with hangovers
  • Not being able to focus
  • Losing the motivation to train
  • Alcoholism

So, what’s the bottom line?

When consumed in small to moderate amounts, alcohol will not stop you from reaching your fitness goals. 


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