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What are the effects on the body due to alcohol? Should I simply consider it as a carb in my macros or is it different (worse?) than that?

I’ve been bodybuilding for a year and a half and I haven’t been wasted since, but maybe this weekend I will. I want to know how much I can consume without affecting my gains too much.

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Maybe take a look at this question about how alcohol affects gains. There is some information there. –  Matt Chan Jul 3 at 0:05
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4 Answers 4

Alcohol has many detrimental effects in the body, and you cannot replace carbs with it.

  • Lowers Growth Hormone and Testosterone
  • Inhibits recovery
  • Causes dehydration
  • Lowers muscle glycogen
  • Decreases aerobic capacity
  • It is caloric, but non-nutrient

Alcohol has a catabolic effect on protein synthesis; the result is lower muscle mass/smaller gains, but it also inhibits other proteins in the body. One effect is that neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) in the hippocampus is shut of for 4-5 days after alcohol consumption.

One huge effect this has is that it decreases the synthesis and release of the peptide (protein based) growth hormone. This is reason enough to abstain from alcohol if you are exercising.

Besides his fact, it also decreases testosterone release, so that less is available to increase muscle mass. This eventually leads to a decreased lean muscle mass as well. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24658221) - Some research shoes that testosterone increases following low doses of alcohol, and decreases with moderate and high doses. However, the synthesis is inhibited, leading to long-term effects. Alcohol inhibits gonadotropin-releasing hormone which stimulates the production of sex hormones.

Alcohol also slows down recovery. This happens because energy expenditure is increased for the detoxification from alcohol, and as such less energy is used for muscle regeneration. As far as research goes, this effect depends on the type of training performed.

Another effect is that it functions as a diuretic. This leads to a state of dehydration which induces fatigue, lowers performance and decreases ATP levels. Also, dehydration in itself causes an increase in the heart rate. This makes aerobic training less effective and harder to perform.

Alcohol decreases glycogen levels in the muscles. When doing medium to high intensity training, muscle glycogen is the main energy source; depletion results in premature ending of training, with subsequent lower gains than otherwise.

Finally, alcohol is pretty caloric, but is rather low on nutritive value. There are better options to increase calorie intake both during gains and cutting.

Edit:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056249/ - This review sums up many of the effects I mentioned above concerning hormonal function. I will try to find studies on the other aspects as well.

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When you say it lowers testosterone and other hormones, it lowers them for how long? How long does it take for muscle synthesis to get back to normal. –  Conrad C Jul 2 at 16:13
    
I don't know. However, neurogenesis in the hippocampus, which is dependent on protein synthesis as well, has been shown to be shut off for up to 4-5 days afterwards. I can only extrapolate that this is how long the effect lasts. If I come across any studies on the topic I will let you know, but I haven't seen any. –  Darko Sarovic Jul 2 at 20:08
    
While all named effects are real, these are more of a ridiculously short duration or effect. Alcohol per se is, in somewhat reasonable dose, by far less detrimetal. Actually, unless you're pregnant, pretty harmless. However, it is other chemicals that "alcohol" is accompanied by which have much more severe and lasting effects. For example, not few "alcohols" contain significant amounts of uric acid increasing chemicals, which not only make gout a factor but also elevated blood pressure (due to u.a. inhibiting NO effects on the artery). –  Damon Jul 2 at 20:44
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Alcohol consumption slows your body's mechanisms for metabolizing fatty acids by interfering with the citric acid cycle (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/87483). It essentially bumps fatty acid metabolism down the priority list. This mostly applied to chronic alcohol use, however. So it doesn't just increase in carbohydrates in your diet, but it also slows fat metabolism in long term drinkers.

If you're not a drinker, in the short term (like this weekend) my guess is the only effect you will see is the increase in calories from adding more carbohydrates to your diet. But in aggregate, especially for a body builder where the goal is to essentially metabolize as much fat as possible, alcohol consumption may make your bodybuilding a little tougher than it has to be.

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Yes, but tougher to metabolize for how long? –  Conrad C Jul 2 at 16:14
    
If you rarely drink, once the all the acetate (converted from alcohol) has been used by the body, and the alcohol is otherwise out of your system, your fatty acid burning mechanisms should return. However, the change in hormone levels could have a more prolonged effect until levels return to normal. Up to 36 hours after strong drinking, gluconeogenesis is still impaired. (pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa26.htm) –  user3194712 Jul 2 at 16:39
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A different take on the matter: http://www.leangains.com/2010/07/truth-about-alcohol-fat-loss-and-muscle.html . Not an expert by any means so would be great with some comment on that particular article since it paints alcohol in a different light than what seems to be commonplace among the fitness community.

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One of the major things you will notice with alcohol consumption (more specifically liquor) is that:

  1. Decrease/Lack of appetite
  2. Dehydration

This will destroy your gains considerably if you think importantly about nutrient timing. If you are dedicated to your craft, you know that eating every 2.5-3 hours is optimal to maintain metabolism. Once you start missing your mark, your body realizes that it is expecting resources, but is not receiving resources due to the destroyed protein synthesis process.

Thus, cannibalism of muscle tissue.

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You mean canibalism? –  Darko Sarovic Jul 5 at 13:59
    
Jokes on you. 'cannibalism' is the correct spelling. –  ghost_zfh Jul 7 at 13:45
    
Joke's*. The point was that it's called catabolism. –  Darko Sarovic Jul 7 at 21:16
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