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How Much Does Alcohol Inhibit Muscle Recovery?

If you start working out, you likely want to build muscle and improve heart health so that you can feel and look better.

Even drinking in moderation may slow down this process, and drinking too much can harm your muscles.

How Alcohol Consumption Impacts Muscles in the Body

The muscular system is one of the most important systems in the body.

There are more than 600 muscles in the human body that manage everything from physical stability and movement to heartbeat, digestion, and breathing. Keeping these muscles healthy and strong will help you stay fit, feel better, and live longer.

Many people who work out regularly to tone their muscles will also have a social drink or enjoy a drink or two with dinner. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this practice, as long as it is within the guidelines for moderate drinking, even a little alcohol after a workout can slow down your muscle recovery.

Standard drinks are:

  • 12 ounces of beer, or one bottle
  • 5 ounces of wine per glass
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, or one shot

This is the average amount of alcohol per serving that your liver can process in one hour. Drinking more than one serving per hour will make you intoxicated, as your liver does not process that much alcohol that quickly. When there is more alcohol in your body than your liver can process, all your organ systems will be impacted, including the three types of muscles: cardiac, skeletal, and smooth.

Men can drink about two servings of alcohol per day, six days or fewer per week, and remain within moderate drinking guidelines. Women should drink no more than one serving per day, six days or fewer per week.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no such thing as “safe” alcohol consumption. The only way to ensure you do not suffer any consequences from drinking is to avoid alcohol altogether.

If you find that you cannot control your drinking, you are at risk of damaging many parts of your body, including muscle systems. In fact, drinking alcohol at all, especially after a workout, can slow down improvements to your health.

Types of Muscle Systems in the Body 

There are three types of muscles in the body:

  • Skeletal: These muscles are attached to your bones and help you move voluntarily by contracting when you need to walk, talk, sit, type, or perform other actions. When most people think of “muscle building” or “working out,” they think of improvements to the tone and size of these muscles.
  • Smooth: This group of muscles lines the inside of your organs and blood vessels, like your digestive tract. These move involuntarily, but they also benefit from exercise routines.
  • Cardiac: This organ system pumps blood around your body, carrying oxygen to all other organs. It is involuntary, but like smooth muscles, it benefits from working out. In fact, aerobic exercise improves your blood flow and heart regularity while also improving the strength of some of your skeletal muscles.

Developing a workout routine that improves your muscle strength should not just focus on skeletal muscles, like your biceps or calves. Aerobic exercise improves your endurance and all your major organ systems, thereby strengthening more than just the skeletal muscle group.

When you decide to start working out, reducing how much you drink or even quitting alcohol altogether can help you improve your physical health, including your muscles. If you struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD), you may experience serious damage to your muscles.

Exercise Progress Can Be Slowed Down by Drinking Alcohol

Several studies suggest that drinking at different times around a workout can hamper your ability to get fit. Here are potential side effects of drinking while trying to build muscle:

Slowed muscle growth

Studies on rats have shown that ethanol inhibits protein synthesis, which is the process that helps to build new muscle when you work out. Alcohol was also shown to decrease muscle weight and lean body mass, and it may affect the proteins that help new muscle tissue grow. A separate animal study found that alcohol could decrease the body’s production of human growth hormone, which helps to repair muscles, by 70 percent. While these are both animal studies and involved the equivalent of binge drinking, there is a correlation in mammals between muscle tone problems and alcohol use

muscle recovery

Slowed muscle recovery

People who drink after working out do not “bounce back” as quickly, according to a New Zealand study. Drinking about 1 gram of alcohol per kilogram of body weight, which is about five drinks per 160-pound human, could lead to more muscle soreness compared to those who drank fruit juice

Slowed metabolism and additional body fat

People who drink alcohol regularly, in large amounts, or both tend to put on more body fat and have slower metabolisms than those who avoid drinking. If your body does not efficiently metabolize the food you eat and instead adds body weight in the form of fat, this will slow down any improvements you make when you work out.

Dehydration

While you work out, you probably drink a lot of water. If you follow your workout with alcohol, you can cause more muscle soreness by dehydrating yourself.

Alcohol impacts your body’s ability to build muscle. Drinking too much too often, and being unable to control how much you drink, can cause damage to muscles that will affect your quality of life.

Severe Physical Problems From Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can lead to many diseases, including heart damage and liver failure. Even the skeletal muscles can suffer damage if you struggle with AUD regardless of how often you work out.

About 33 percent of people who struggle with an addiction to alcohol develop alcoholic myopathy, which is a breakdown of proximal muscle tissue, the muscles around the torso. Signs of acute alcoholic myopathy may appear after binge drinking and blacking out.

  • Muscle pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Physical weakness

This is a sign that poisoning from drinking too much alcohol is breaking down muscle tissue. In extreme cases, muscles in the throat, diaphragm, and upper chest will also break down, which will feel painful.

If you drink so much alcohol that you pass out and don’t move for several hours, this constricts blood flow to the muscle groups, which can cause further damage.

Alcoholic myopathy will also damage the heart muscles, leading to cardiomyopathy, and the kidneys, leading to renal failure.

Drinking too much may cause ataxia, which is damage to the brain that can affect muscle control, balance, and voluntary movements. Most forms of ataxia manifest as problems swallowing, speaking, and moving the eyes. Once damage to the brain occurs, it is hard to fix. This can cause problems later in life if you want to work out to get healthy.

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Regular sleep and moving through enough sleep cycles improves all sorts of body functions, including immune system health, brain and memory management, and muscle tissue repair, especially after working out. Between seven and 10 hours per night is recommended by most sleep specialists.

Drinking too much — in one sitting or regularly drinking large amounts — can harm your ability to sleep well. Alcohol abuse can lead to problems falling asleep and staying asleep, both during periods of heavy drinking and during alcohol withdrawal.

Passing out from drinking too much is not the same thing as falling asleep, as the brain does not perform the same functions.

Get Help to End Alcohol Abuse

If you struggle to control how much you drink and how often, you may have alcohol use disorder (AUD). This affects all areas of your life — not just your physical health, but your mental health, your financial stability, and your personal relationships as well.

Drinking in moderation may slow down your fitness progress. If you want the best results from your workouts, abstain from alcohol. 

Sources

(April 25, 2018) What are the Main Functions of the Muscular System? Medical News Today. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321617.php

(January 3, 2018) Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

(2015) Appendix 9. Alcohol. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, Health.gov. from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-9/

How Boozing Affects Muscle Building. Men’s Journal from https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/how-boozing-affects-muscle-building/

Alcoholic Myopathy Symptoms. LIVESTRONG. from https://www.livestrong.com/article/293874-symptoms-of-slightly-elevated-liver-enzymes/

(March 8, 2018) Ataxia. Mayo Clinic. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ataxia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355652

The Importance of Sleep. BodyBuilding.com. from https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/the-importance-of-sleep.html

FYI: Insomnia and Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), New York. from https://www.oasas.ny.gov/admed/fyi/fyiindepth-insomnia.cfm

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