Drink Up (Alcohol) and Shortcut Muscle Growth and Recovery

Alcohol

After making the game winning catch, a leaping single-handed snatch with just a few seconds left on the clock, its time to celebrate and drinks are on the house. And, you deserve a few beers or a little CÎROC® right?

Before you reach for that second (or third) drink, read this: drinking alcohol can interfere with muscle growth and delay recovery from training. In a recent study, men completed a leg workout followed by cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes and a set of 10 intervals (the study design was developed to mimic playing a team sport). Immediately and 4 hours post exercise they consumed whey protein, whey + alcohol or whey + carbohydrate. Alcohol plus whey protein reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis (muscle protein synthesis correlates with muscle growth over time) by an astounding 24% compared to drinking the whey protein without any alcohol. When alcohol was consumed without protein (as is often the case when athletes go out and party after a game), there was a 37% reduction in muscle protein synthesis. This study shows that alcohol interferes with muscle repair and recovery.

Here’s a breakdown of what alcohol can do to your performance and recovery:

  1. Alcohol interferes with the muscle growth and repair.
  2. Drinking alcohol can affect the way an athlete eats after a workout or game. Think about it – how often do you make healthy food choices after you’ve had a few drinks? “I’ll have another Long Island Iced Tea alongside the chicken and steamed vegetables platter with a side of mashed sweet potatoes.” Yeah right.
  3. Alcohol decreases blood testosterone levels in men in a dose dependent manner. The more you drink the more your testosterone decreases.
  4. Alcohol makes you dehydrated. That pounding headache you woke up with the last time you drank too much? Part of that is the result of dehydration.
  5. Alcohol impairs memory, focus, reaction time, accuracy and fine motor skills.Drinking alcohol before a competition or game may decrease your focus, coordination, and reaction time, all of which are crucial for good performance. This loss in focus can also increase your risk for injury. Drinking alcohol after a training session or game can also impair memory, which can affect the way that you remember training strategies or game plans.

Overall, drinking alcohol before or after exercise is not a good idea. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes avoid alcohol 48 hours before a game or performance. Additionally, they recommend drinking plenty of water and eating well after a game. And though it’s tempting to go out and party to celebrate, think before you drink and drink responsibly.

References:

Bianco A, Thomas E, Pomara F, Tabacchi G, Karsten B, Paoli A, Palma A. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014;11(1):26.

Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PloS one 2014;9(2):e88384.

Kozir LP. ACSM current comment: Alcohol and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine. Internet: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/alcoholandathleticperformance.pdf?sfvrsn=5 (accessed 13 November 2014).

You Booze, You Lose. How Alcohol Can Wreck Your Athletic Performance

It’s called a beer gut for a reason. But, over drinking will do more than just cover up those abs you’ve been working so hard for. Take a close look at how it will wreck your athletic performance:

Athletic Performance & Recovery

Alcohol has a number of effects on the body that can impair performance and delay recovery by:

  • Impairing muscle growth in the short-term – decreasing gains you’ve worked for in the weight room and on the field
  • Disrupting your sleep cycle, which impairs how you learn and retain/recall information (slowed reaction time on the field several days after consumption)
  • Decreasing blood testosterone levels for up to 24 hours after consumption which decreases aggression, lean muscle mass, recovery and overall athletic performance
  • Causing nausea, vomiting and drowsiness for several days after consumption

Body Fat

  • Alcohol interrupts your sleep cycle, which decreases your body’s production of HGH (human growth hormone). HGH promotes muscle mass while decreasing fat mass, is critical for recovery (by stimulating protein synthesis) and is important for immune system functioning.
  • Alcohol suppresses testosterone production.
  • Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and metabolized first, before food so extra calories from food are stored as body fat. Because your liver is busy processing alcohol, fat metabolism is delayed.
  • Alcohol also inhibits your body’s absorption of vitamins B1, B12, folic acid and zinc.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic that leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. And, dehydration can increase one’s risk of muscle cramps and other muscle injuries.

For all of the younger athletes reading this who feel peer pressure about drinking, think about this, the effects of 3 drinks will last a few days. Drink on Thursday and your reaction time on Saturday will still be impaired (and it may be impaired on Sunday too). Need an out? You just got one. Need another out? Use my all time favorite response when someone asks if you want a drink, “That’s a Clown Question, Bro.”

References:

  • J Clin Endocrin & Metab 1980;51:759-764.
  • Firth G. Manzo LG. For the Athlete: Alcohol and Athletic Performance. University of Notre Dame; 2004.
  • J Am Acad Dermatol 43(1 Pt 1):1-16.

The Top 3 Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight

I’ve probably blogged about this before. But, its a recurring theme that deserves its due space on the internet. There are 3 things that will prevent you from losing weight and they are all too common:

1)  You underestimate what you eat. Studies show most people underestimate what they eat or as I learned from my clients who are in Weight Watchers, these are called BLTs: Bites, Likes and Tastes. We are a society of standing up and eating in our kitchen, grabbing fast food and flying down the highway (or sitting in traffic depending on where you live) and eating while cooking. And, I’ve noticed time and time again that people disregard those BLTs. It’s an unspoken, underlying theme in America along the lines of “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”: what you eat while standing, driving or reading facebook gossip doesn’t count. Do I always sit down to a meal and do nothing but eat? No, I certainly don’t, after all, that’s so….un-American. But, I am aware of my hunger and when I’m eating outside of hunger (like last night’s chocolate craving).

When I see food logs where people are eating the same amount every day and never indulging in anything that doesn’t come straight from the ground or from the butcher shop, yet they aren’t losing weight, I’m inclined to believe they need a reality check. I better see at least 1 beer, chocolate, fried something or food that comes out of a package or from a drive through window or we are going to have a reality check.

2) You don’t exercise like you think you do. This is a classic one and, I’m going to let you in on one big fat marketing lie, those numbers on the machines in the gym aren’t accurate. If it says you burned 300 calories after biking for 30 minutes, subtract about 100 and you may get a better estimate. And, never exercise to eat (i.e. just because you burned 300 calories that doesn’t give you a license to eat a 300 calorie sundae if your goal is weight loss). If you really want to get an idea of how hard you are working out, hire a trainer for a few sessions and compare what you do with what they have you do. Or, find a friend who regularly does interval workouts and join them. Another idea, strap on an accelerometer or pedometer (I like accelerometers better). I strapped one my foot and found out that I walk way less than the 10,000 recommended steps daily (on days I don’t run or do the stairmill). And, using one has made me more aware of the fact that I need to get walking more often.

Once you try these two things, and if you don’t lose weight, then we can look at step 3. But, first, you must keep a food journal of every single BLT every day for 1 – 2 weeks straight (or alternatively, follow exactly what I tell you to eat an the amounts I give you for 1 – 2 weeks). Next, change your workout routine, put on a pedometer or see a personal trainer. These 2 steps alone get the majority of people from “there’s something wrong with me, my metabolism is slow” to “holy smokes, this works!” Remember, if you are serious, keeping a food journal isn’t really that big a of a deal.

3) If you still aren’t losing weight, let’s look at your hormones. Fasting insulin (? PCOS in women), thyroid hormones (T3 and TSH), estrogen and testosterone for starters. If some of these are low, there are ways you can manipulate them with hormone replacement and diet.

I’m confident most people can lose weight if, and this is a huge if, they are diligent about what they are doing. There are of course cases where people have tried everything and if you are following a good diet and exercise program it’s time to delve into what’s going on physiologically in your body. Sometimes it’s a detective game and, the patient is the one who must do the detective work, find the right doctors, follow through and keep on top of their health.