It’s Friday evening, you just got in an awesome and productive high-intensity workout, you set some new personal records, you just consumed your post-workout whey protein and fast-acting carb source to start the recovery process, and you’re feeling on top of the world.
You get a call/text on your phone from your mates asking to go have a drink or two at the local pub.
You think, oh what the hell, one drink or two can’t hurt and I’ve worked hard all week! I can celebrate the new personal record I just achieved.
Let’s investigate that exact question, will consuming alcohol post-resistance training affect your body transformation and results?
Alcohol Use and Effects
People who engage in regular physical activity have higher rates of alcohol use than sedentary individuals (4). College athletes are at greater risk for binge drinking than non-athletes (3) and over 50% report drinking alcohol during their competitive season.
Although it’s common for athletes to consume alcohol directly after training or events, almost 60% believe that their use of alcohol doesn’t affect performance or overall health.
Prior research shows post exercise alcohol consumption negatively influences recovery from muscle damage and accentuates loss of dynamic and static strength (1). The underlying mechanism for this negative effect of alcohol on recovery hasn’t been determined.
The effect of acute alcohol ingestion on signaling mechanism involved in protein synthesis hasn’t been investigated with heavy resistance exercise.
We know that a muscle protein called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and its signaling pathway is important for resistance exercise-induced protein synthesis and subsequent development of lean body shape.
In short, mTOR is one of the muscle proteins involved in the signaling pathway of protein synthesis; which is the underlying mechanism that gives you the lean body shape. It gets activated by both intense resistance training and amino acids, especially leucine.
Independently, resistance exercise and alcohol have opposite effects on mTOR signaling. Thus, it is important to understand how alcohol modulates this pathway that gets turned on by resistance exercise. There is no prior scientific research that directly examined this protein synthesis pathway in this context.
Recent work investigated the effect of alcohol ingestion on resistance exercise-induced mTOR signaling in men and women (2).
Resistance-trained males and females completed two identical acute heavy resistance exercise trials that were separated by 28 days. Each participant completed both experimental treatment conditions (alcohol and placebo) which allowed him/her to serve as their own control.
What did the research find?
The major findings of this research were that alcohol ingestion affected resistance exercise-mediated signaling of the protein synthesis pathway in men but not in women. Considering the high use of alcohol among physically active people, these findings provide important physiological insight regarding alcohol’s effect on processes involved in protein synthesis during recovery from resistance exercise.
Below are some dot points of key findings from this research.
- Resistance exercise increases mTOR protein signaling, which is a mechanism important to improving body shape.
- Alcohol (in the absence of exercise) reduced mTOR signaling and protein synthesis
- Alcohol ingestion prevented resistance exercise-induced increase in mTOR at 3 hours postexercise in men. This helps explain the reduced protein synthesis previously found with acute alcohol ingestion.
- mTOR signaling was not affected by alcohol ingestion in women. Alcohol ingestion immediately after resistance exercise seems to have a greater influence on mTOR signaling in men than in women.
- It’s important to note that although mTOR signaling is important for protein synthesis and enhancing body shape, it’s not the only player in town. This is a multifaceted and complex signaling pathway involving many factors.
What this means to you:
- Most recreationally active people are naïve to the fact that consuming alcohol or binge drinking affects their performance.
- Alcohol should not be consumed after resistance exercise sessions due to its potential to hamper adaptations to resistance exercise and reduce anabolic signaling, at least in men.
- It’s important to note that although this study examined the effects of alcohol immediately after resistance exercise, consuming alcohol in later time periods, post-resistance exercise can potentially have the same negative effects.
- These findings have direct practical implications to trainers because they can use this information when advising their clients regarding alcohol use.
- This knowledge could potentially be used by active people engaged in resistance exercise programs as a means to deflect peer pressure to drink by demonstrating the potential effect alcohol could have on their body transformation.
1. Barnes MJ, Mundel T, and Stannard SR. Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport 13: 189-193, 2010.
2. Duplanty AA, Budnar RG, Luk HY, Levitt DE, Hill DW, McFarlin BK, Huggett DB, and Vingren JL. Effect of Acute Alcohol Ingestion on Resistance Exercise-Induced mTORC1 Signaling in Human Muscle. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31: 54-61, 2017.
3. Ford JA. Alcohol use among college students: a comparison of athletes and nonathletes. Substance use & misuse 42: 1367-1377, 2007.
4. Moore MJ and Werch C. Relationship between vigorous exercise frequency and substance use among first-year drinking college students. J Am Coll Health 56: 686-690, 2008.