How Does Alcohol Affect Athletic Performance?

This week’s video is all about alcohol. It’s becoming more common to consume alcohol after road races, competitions, even group fitness classes. But what effect does this have on your performance and recovery? What about sleep and hormones?

Alcohol + Performance & Recovery

After exercise, it’s important to replenish glycogen stores and stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which is why consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein is recommended. However, when you consume alcohol after a workout, alcohol DECREASES muscle protein synthesis (over 37%!) & interferes with glycogen replenishment, delaying the recovery process. This alone makes it very difficult to boost performance & muscle growth over time.

Research shows that even when consumed WITH a protein source after exercise, alcohol can still decrease muscle protein synthesis (by 24% vs. 37%), impairing muscle growth and repair. Alcohol also impairs hydration status, which can affect the quality and duration of upcoming workouts.

If you’re recovering from an injury, consuming alcohol could also prolong your recovery time.

Alcohol + Sleep & Hormones

Studies show alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but the quality of sleep is what you should be concerned about. Alcohol disrupts your restorative sleep cycles, reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of sports injuries.

As for hormones, cortisol & testosterone are just two of the hormones that effect muscle growth. Cortisol fuels protein breakdown while testosterone elevates protein synthesis. Studies have indicated that alcohol (2-3 drinks/day) impairs testosterone levels by decreasing secretion of testosterone, which can impair protein synthesis & negatively affect the results from resistance training over time.

A study conducted on male athletes indicates having just under one drink as an appropriate amount, without having a negative impact on performance and recovery.

Now I’m not saying you should never drink alcohol again (or I’d be a complete hypocrite) but I am saying if you’re wanting to improve muscle recovery, performance, and promote lean muscle mass gain, it’s a good idea to hold off on alcohol post-workout. Instead, consume a carbohydrate and protein-rich meal after your workout, and allow enough time to digest before drinking a beer or cocktail.

Watch the full nutrition video below!

For research studies, click here, here, here, and here.