Alcohol vs. training: facts and myths

Most people you meet at the gym occasionally drink alcohol. There are many myths about the impact of ethanol on exercise capacity, strength increase, muscle mass growth etc. Unfortunately, from the point of view of human body alcohol does more harm than good. People who want to maximize the increase in strength, muscle mass and strength should not drink alcohol.

Myth # 1: beer will wear down post-exeercise soreness

There are two types of muscle pain: early pain and DOMS. Early soreness is the result of intensive training; there are biochemical changes that occur in muscles, increasing with the progressive development of fatigue (it depends on an individual and a type of training work how quickly they appear). Among other things, lactic acid is formed changing acid-base homeostasis. Irritation of sensory nerves causes pain. So this pain is experienced only during training.

Alcohol consumption during exercise would result in a collapse of an athlete and losing possibility of continuing the workout. For this kind of pain alcohol certainly will not help. What happens next with lactic acid? Within one hour after workout practically entire lactic acid is removed from your muscles (schematically: it is used as fuel for muscle - "70% converted to pyruvate, and is oxidized by heart and skeletal muscle, and 20% is converted to glucose in the liver, 10% in amino acids" - Physiology of exercise and physical training, J. Gorski).

And what about the infamous muscle fever? The second type of musculoskeletal pain is DOMS: delayed onset muscle soreness. The word soreness is misleading because it is actually microtrauma that has nothing to do with lactic acid. Pain occurring 24-48 hours after workout means your body "is repairing" itself this way, regeneration of muscle tissue after workout is taking place. Muscle injuries are produced by chemical and mechanical factors. Mechanical injuries stem from intensive muscle work, especially during fibers stretching (eccentric phase). It does not necessarily equate with a large amount of exercise and series. More important is the time under tension, for example in the barbell curl: you should slowly lower the weight and the lifting phase should be a little faster. Classic barbell curl has two phases - lifting and lowering. When lifting the fibers are shorter. The eccentric phase is biceps muscle stretching. In the resting phase contractile proteins actin and myosin do not form connections (bridges).

Will alcohol help for delayed muscle soreness?

The answer is: no.

Myth # 2: alcohol is not harmful, you can drink it regularly and work out

In fact, what is the effect of alcohol consumption on post-training regeneration (strength and muscle mass increase)?

Answer: negative! In one study (New Zealand, 2010) it was checked how moderate alcohol consumption correlates with muscle "performance" during reconstruction of microdamages occurring during training. 11 healthy men performed 300 repetitions of maximal eccentric contraction of the leg quadriceps - one leg with isokinetic dynamometer. Comment: in the eccentric phase most muscle micro-injuries appear. That's why athletes so frequently drop the weigh after lifting or jerking: they do it to minimize suffering from DOMS. After the training the men had 1 g of alcohol per kilogram of body weight (in a mixture of vodka and orange juice) - ALC day (from "alcohol"). So, a person weighing 100 kg drank 100 g of ethanol (one 500 ml beer, 6% contains 30 g of ethanol). Thus, the subjects had to consume the equivalent of five and a half 500 ml 4.5% beers (~ 2.77 L), two and a half  10% beers (~ 1.25 L) or 250 ml of 40% vodka.

The other day subjects consumed caloric equivalent of the alcohol in the form of orange juice: the OJ day (orange juice). Maximum torque of muscle strength was measured (isokinetic for concentric and eccentric phases) as well as isometric, marked CK (creatine kinase) respectively before, 36 h and 60 h after training. It recorded a significant decline in strength 36 and 60 hours after training (regeneration had not yet finished). Other studies have found that further training in such conditions means decrease in exercise capabilities, among others, only a half of growth hormone secretion takes place and there is much weaker burst of adrenaline and noradrenaline (in response to training).

The greatest loss of muscle strength was observed until 36 hours after the training (without alcohol consumption)

  • -12% (isometric phase) - decrease by 12%

  • -28% (concentric phase) - decrease by 28%

  • -19% (eccentric phase) - decrease by 19%

​Isometric - increased muscle tension without changes in its length. Concentric - lifting phase. Muscle shortening (contraction) appears. Eccentric, lowering phase: muscle length increases, fibers are stretched.

But in the group that drank alcohol the results were much worse:

  • -34% (isometric phase)

  • -40% (concentric phase)

  • -34% (eccentric phase)

Interestingly, creatine kinase and perceptible muscle soreness were similar in both groups.

Conclusions?

  1. Consumption of even small amounts of alcohol adversely affects ability to perform strength training in power sports athletes.
  2. Almost three times greater decrease may take place in isometric strength and almost double strength loss in eccentric phse compared to those who did not consume alcohol after training.
  3. If you have to drink alcohol, don't do it after your training or the following day.
  4. Regular consumption of alcohol should be limited especially by those who use pharmaceuticals (especially oral from the 17-alpha group, such as Methandienone, stanozolol). This can lead to liver failure.

Sources: “Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise”. J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Jan;13(1):189-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2008.12.627. Epub 2009 Feb 20. Barnes MJ, Mündel T, Stannard SR. 2. J. Górski „Fizjologia wysiłku i treningu fizycznego”

Sources: “Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise”. J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Jan;13(1):189-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2008.12.627. Epub 2009 Feb 20. Barnes MJ, Mündel T, Stannard SR. 2. J. Górski „Fizjologia wysiłku i treningu fizycznego”