Can Alcohol Impair Muscle Growth and Fitness Levels?

A variety of alcoholic drinks

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Alcohol consumption is a regular topic of conversation amongst wellness professionals. Is a moderate amount ok? Is red wine actually good for your heart? Or should we all throw out our favorite handle and never look back? Many of us enjoy a few drinks, whether during work happy hour, a friend's birthday festivities, or a big game. The question is, how does what's in our cup impact our physical fitness levels?

Alcohol and Muscle Growth

A small study was conducted on how alcohol consumption affected muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Research participants included eight physically active men performing weight lifting and interval training as part of the testing process. They consumed whey protein and alcohol immediately after exercise and again four hours later. They also consumed a carbohydrate meal two hours after training. Muscle biopsies were taken at two and eight hours following physical training.

The results showed alcohol levels elevated above baseline post-exercise, with both protein and carbohydrate consumption. Muscle biopsies indicated reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) following physical training. Alcohol consumed with protein reduced MPS by 24% and 37% when combined with carbohydrate. The outcome showed a partial rescue of MPS when protein was consumed with alcohol but still a negative decrease.

Research Findings

Researchers concluded alcohol does impair muscle protein synthesis (MPS) despite consuming optimal nutrition. The amount of alcohol consumed was based on reported binge drinking by athletes. Because alcohol consumption could even be greater among athletes, test results could potentially provide even further decline in MPS. 

The findings provide enough evidence to propose educational awareness to athletes and coaches regarding alcohol consumption and muscle recovery. 

Alcohol and Fat Reduction

Alcohol is shown to reduce metabolism and decrease our ability to burn fat. This is partly due to how the body responds differently to alcohol than eating real food.

The body sees alcohol as a toxin and not a nutrient so it's unable to store alcohol calories in the same way as food calories.

Instead, metabolism shifts from burning stored food calories to removing toxic waste. The primary toxic chemicals produced by alcohol are called acetaldehyde and acetate. 

You may notice an almost immediate urge to head to the bathroom after just two drinks. Your body is temporarily using the unwanted byproducts as fuel to rid itself of toxins. This slows down the natural metabolic process of adipose tissue or fat stores being burned.

Alcohol and Hormones

While moderate drinking, like a glass of wine with dinner, probably won't alter an individual's hormone levels too drastically, alcohol is a clear disruptor of the endocrine system. This disruption, in turn, can impact the body's communication signals between the nervous system and the immune system. It may not seem like a big deal, but these disruptions can be difficult to re-balance.

Considering the fact that endocrine disruption can actually elevate stress levels and hormonal irregularities, comments like "wow I could really use a drink right now" in already-stressful situations are not only not helpful, but unhealthy. Hormone balance (or imbalance) makes a huge difference on an individual's health—stress and alcohol, or simply too much alcohol, is something to avoid.

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol may make us feel relaxed but is shown to adversely affect our sleep. Sleep is important for muscle recovery and tissue repair. Without adequate sleep, we’re unable to function at optimum levels. 

Alcohol is a depressant and may initially help us go to sleep, but staying asleep is the problem.

According to research, alcohol disrupts the body's restorative or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Without REM sleep, you may experience daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and poor concentration.

Studies indicate having one or two drinks (moderate alcohol consumption) doesn’t seem to impair sleep patterns. Disturbed sleep can occur with excessive drinking. It’s also advised not to use alcohol as a sleep aid to avoid the risk of alcohol dependency.

Alcohol and Nutrition

Alcohol lacks nutritional value for the body while contributing characteristics that can actually sabotage nutritional efforts individuals have attempted. Alcohol consumption is shown to impair nutrient absorption by decreasing digestive enzymes. It can also damage cells located in the digestive tract affecting nutrient absorption. Without normal digestive function, even healthy food is potentially unable to be used to benefit the body. 

While it's more common for individuals who are drinking heavily to succumb to mindless eating, even balanced diets feel negative side effects from alcohol.

Studies show excessive drinking can prevent the body from absorbing adequate protein and other nutrients. We require sufficient nutrients to function at optimal fitness levels and to build and maintain muscle mass. 

Alcohol and Fitness

Based on how alcohol impacts muscle growth, fat reduction, hormones, sleep, and nutrition, it's clear that the substance does not positively contribute to overall fitness levels. This will vary in severity based on the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption, which allows many to find a balance that allows them to meet their fitness goals without giving up their favorite brunch beverage.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Parr EB, et al. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLOS One. 2014. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088384

  2. Traversy G, Chaput JP. Alcohol consumption and obesity: an updateCurr Obes Rep. 2015;4(1):122-130. doi:10.1007/s13679-014-0129-4

  3. Rachdaoui N, Sarkar DK. Effects of alcohol on the endocrine systemEndocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America. 2013;42(3):593-615. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2013.05.008

  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use."

  5. Park SY, Oh MK, Lee BS, et al. The effects of alcohol on quality of sleep. Korean J Fam Med. 2015;36(6):294-9. doi:10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism No. 22 PH 346

Additional Reading

By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.