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Alcohol and Fitness: Do They Mix?

Aug 15, 2014

Alcohol consumption is a part of society and is consumed and enjoyed by many people. It is thought by many that fitness and drinking do not mix and that is correct to an extent. Alcohol does change your body and knowing how can help you make smarter decisions when it comes to drinking. I also want to put some of the rumors to rest about what the result of drinking actually is instead of what we think makes sense.

Alcohol Metabolism

When alcohol enters your system your body will prioritize its metabolic activities to process the alcohol. The process turns ethanol into a usable form of energy what we know as Acetyl-CoA. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and has an inefficient energy conversion in which up to 20% of the energy is lost in the form of heat in the chemical reaction. This means alcohol has a high thermogenic effect such as protein. This also means alcohol is not easily converted into fat. Instead when a cell receives the acetyl-CoA it signals the body to stop the burning of glucose, and fats. So alcohol does not cause fat storage, it stops fat burning.

Effects on Physique and Performance

Alcohol impacts your hormones, and your total caloric intake. So if you have a goal of improving body composition, be aware of the calories alcohol adds to your diet. If building muscle is your goal drinking will definitely inhibit your growth. Matthew J Barnes published a review in June 2014 issue of Sports Medicine about how much alcohol will decrease performance, and how much alcohol it takes to do so. The study had athletes perform 300 eccentric reps on the quads (enough to make walking/standing uncomfortable) and then 30 minutes later consume 1g/kg of BW in alcohol. This comes out to be about 6 drinks worth. The retesting showed approximately a 15-20% drop in performance compared to the control. The study was repeated with 0.5g/kg of BW and the results showed no decrease in performance. That tells us that moderate drinking (fewer than 3 drinks) will not greatly impact your training, but 6 drinks definitely will. Keep this in mind next time you want to be social and have a good time, but don't want to waste your workouts. If you do drink heavily the next time you can expect to perform at 100% is about 48 hours later.

Fat Loss

Alcohol doesn't cause fat storage, and when calories are replaced with alcohol no fat is gained. So you can get away with drinking calories as long as you don't over consume from any energy standpoint. At the end of the day calories in vs calories out is king. However the disinhibition effect can ruin any dieter having a few tracked drinks. Just like you may say things you might not when sober you may eat things you normally wouldn't. Your natural control mechanisms are suppressed and could have you chowing down by the end of the night. You will not be thinking about your physique at this point. They type of alcoholic drink has different effects varying in intensity, but the overall message is it raises cortisol levels eventually and this is no good for appetite control, muscle recovery, or restful night’s sleep.


Maybe you have heard the rumor that alcohol lowers testosterone or raises estrogen. It depends on how much you drink. Again use the 3 drinks rule. If you consume less than 3 drinks there is very little effect on your hormones. It also depends what you do. If you go for a long exhausting run I do not recommend drinking afterwards due to the exaggerated lowering of testosterone. However drinking 6 drinks after weight training actually caused an increase in free and total testosterone levels.

Rules to Minimize the Impact of Drinking

1. Keep consumption light (3 drinks max)

2. If going to drink do it after weight training.

3. Don't do cardio and drink (lowers Test)

4. When alcohol is consumed with a meal avoid carbs and fats and focus on more protein

5. Beer and white wine have a lesser impact on appetite.

6. Avoid sugary mixed drinks they lead to over consumption and over eating.

7. Performance and recovery are negatively impacted after 3 drinks.

8. Monitoring calories in vs calories out will save you from gaining fat.

9. Alcohol makes you fat by suppressing fat burning, not increasing fat storage.


Barnes MJ. Alcohol: Impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. July 2014;44(7):909-919.

Bianco, et al. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutrition & Metabolism. June 2014;11:26.

Heikkonen, et al. The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, leutininzing hormone and cortisol in males. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. June 1996;20(4):711-716.

Kokavec, A., Lindner, A., Ryan, J.E., & Crowe, S.F. (2009). Ingesting alcohol prior to food can alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior, 93, 170-176.

Raben, et al. Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. January 2003;77(1):91-100.

YeomansMR. Short term effects of alcohol on appetite in humans. Effects of context and restrained eating. Appetite. December 2010;55(3):565-573.

ZakhariS. Overview: how is alcohol metabolized by the body? Alcohol Research & Health. 2006;29(4):245-254.


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