ALCOHOL CHEAT-SHEET FOR MUSCLE GAIN AND FAT LOSS

Cherry picked studies and a lack of biochemistry knowledge create myths. Similarly to other nutrition myths, alcohol has been labelled as one of the worst things you can ingest and that it should be avoided at all costs if you want to build muscle, lose fat and be healthy. In reality it’s not really that bad if you know what you’re doing. The following cheat-sheet will help you build muscle and lose fat while enjoying your drinks.

Alcohol & Thermogenesis

For years there’s been a debate whether alcohol calories “count” or not.

Drinkers weigh less than non-drinkers and there are studies showing accelerated weight loss when fat and carbs are exchanged for an equivalent amount of calories from alcohol.

The connection between a lower body weight and moderate alcohol consumption is particularly strong among women, whereas in men it’s either neutral or weak, but it’s there.

The thermic effect of food (TEF) of alcohol is 20% of the ingested calories, making it a close second to protein. That means that even though alcohol is labeled as 7.1 calories per gram, the real value is more along the lines of 5.7 calories due to its high TEF. The heightened thermogenesis resulting from alcohol intake is partly mediated by catecholamines.

Alcohol also does not affect satiety like other nutrients. It’s much easier to indulge in liquid calories than it is for calories coming from solid food sources. This dis-inhibition of impulse control following intoxication more often than not encourages overeating. More often than not you’ve indulged in pizza or cheeseburgers after a couple of drinks. This probably explains why.

However, alcohol consumption seems to decrease food intake in the long term. Additionally, regular alcohol consumption affects nutrient partitioning favorably via improvements in insulin sensitivity.

Alcohol, Insulin Sensitivity & Health

Moderate alcohol consumption improves insulin sensitivity, lowers triglyceride concentrations and improves glycemic control, not only in healthy people, but also in those with type 2 diabetes.

There is no clear consensus on the insulin sensitizing mechanism of alcohol, but one viable explanation may be that alcohol promotes leanness by stimulating AMPK in skeletal muscle. Assuming that this might have favorable effects on nutrient partitioning in the longer term is not a stretch. 

Studies have also consistently shown that moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. Alcohol also contributes to a healthier and disease-free life by protecting against Alzheimer’s diseasemetabolic syndromerheumatoid arthritis, the common cold, different types of cancersdepression as well as many other diseases. It can even almost be said beyond doubt that moderate alcohol consumption is healthier than complete abstinence.

Alcohol, Hormones & Training

You’ve probably heard that alcohol intake lowers testosterone. While this is true, the actual impact has been widely exaggerated.

Alcohol is directly toxic for the testosterone-producing Leydig cells in the testicles. In the long run, alcohol’s toxicity might even cause a man’s testicles to shrink, which directly reduces their capacity to produce testosterone. Additionally, chronic alcohol abuse may decrease the brain’s signal to the testicles to produce testosterone [1]. Alcohol can also increase the conversion of testosterone to estrogen in the liver [1], leaving less of it in circulation.

In contrast to what you’d expect based on the aforementioned effects of alcohol, light drinking of around 1-3 US drinks increases testosterone levels in the hours thereafter [1]. 

This is only a transient benefit, since the effect reverses over time with chronic consumption. 

A three-week study had men and women consume 30-40g alcohol per day for three weeks, showing a 6.8% reduction in testosterone for the men and none for the women at the end of the study.

Another study showed that ~120g alcohol will lower testosterone by 23% for up to 16 hours after the drinking binge.

If you were to drink so  much that you end up admitted to the hospital, you get a similar effect with a reduction of about -20%.

Higher doses of 4-8 drinks will lower testosterone levels by 18 to 40% [12], but will normally recover within a day. [12]

Doses of 9+ glasses of alcohol may instantly tank your testosterone levels by 45%.

That means that having a few drinks once or twice per week (even more frequent than that) would have hardly any effects higher than a 10% decrease on your testosterone levels. When drinking more than 10 drinks on a daily basis, testosterone levels drop considerably, ranging between 25-55%, but if you drink that much you probably have bigger problems to worry about.

When it comes to the hormonal response to post-workout alcohol consumption using 70-80g alcohol (6-7 drinks), no effect on testosterone was found and only a very modest effect on cortisol was noted.

Since alcohol decreases testosterone levels, alcohol also decreases mTOR kinase activity, which is a key enzyme that integrates signals for muscle growth [1, 2]. Additionally, 9 servings of alcohol post-workout decrease myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) by 24%. When going from maintenance calories into a 40% caloric deficit along with a decrease in protein intake (from 1.3 to 1.2g/kg of body weight) it has been found to result in a 36% decrease in myofibrillar protein synthesis. So if you were to get absolutely wasted, the effect that it would have on muscle growth could be compared as if you spent that day on a deficit. 

When it comes to recovery, light to moderate alcohol consumption (30-90g alcohol) after strength training does not accelerate exercise-induced muscle damage [1] nor does it affect muscle strength [1, 2].

This study, used an extreme training plan of eccentric training only, followed by alcohol intakes in the 80g range, noting impaired recovery in the trained muscles. Post-workout alcohol intakes in the 120g range after exhaustive endurance training saw significant suppression of testosterone that carried over to the next day. Unless you plan on getting absolutely wasted after extreme training sessions then the aforementioned don’t really apply to you. Overall, the effects of alcohol on recovery are pretty mild.

Alcohol Absorption & Fat Storage

Here’s a recap of how nutrients are stored and burned after a mixed meal:

  1. Carbs and protein suppress fat oxidation via an elevation in insulin. However, these macronutrients don’t contribute to fat synthesis in any meaningful way by themselves.
  2. Since fat oxidation is suppressed, dietary fat is stored in fat cells.
  3. As the hours go by and insulin drops, fat is released from fat cells. Fat storage is an ongoing process and fatty acids are constantly entering and exiting fat cells throughout the day. Net gain or loss is more or less dictated by the caloric input and output.

When you drink alcohol, it is absorbed from the stomach and intestines. It then passes through the liver on its way to the blood. When it’s in circulation, it keeps passing through the liver and during every passing the liver breaks down some of the alcohol into acetaldehyde and from there into acetate. It’s these 2 metabolites, especially acetaldehyde, that make alcohol toxic. When alcohol is thrown into the mix, it gets immediate priority (since it’s highly toxic), stopping fat oxidation, but also suppressing carb and protein oxidation.

Essentially, ethanol (alcohol) is converted in the liver to acetate; an unknown portion is then activated to acetyl-CoA, but only a small portion is converted to fatty acids. Most of the acetate is released into the circulation, where it affects peripheral tissue metabolism; adipocyte release of nonesterified fatty acids is decreased and acetate replaces lipid in the fuel mixture.

Acetate by itself is an extremely poor precursor for fat synthesis. There’s simply no metabolic pathway that can create fat out of alcohol with any meaningful efficiency. Studies on fat synthesis after substantial alcohol intakes are non-existent in humans, but Hellerstein estimated that de novo lipogenesis after alcohol consumption to be ~3%. Out of the 24 g alcohol consumed in this study, a measly 0.8 g fat was synthesized in the liver.

The effect of alcohol on fat storage is very similar to that of carbs. By suppressing fat oxidation, dietary fats are able to be stored with ease. However, while conversion of carbs to fat may occur once glycogen stores are saturated, DNL via alcohol consumption seems less likely.

alcohol

Protocol To Lose Fat Or Prevent Fat Gain When Drinking

I learned this protocol from Martin Berkhan about a decade ago, and have applied it to myself as well as numerous clients with great success over the past years:

  1. On the day where you know you’ll be drinking limit your fat intake to 0.15g/lb (0.3g/kg) of body weight or as close to this figure as possible.
  2. Limit your carb intake to 0.6-0.7g/lb (1.5g/kg) of body weight. All ingested carbs for the day should come from veggies and the tag-along carbs in some protein sources. Similarly, you’ll also want to limit carbohydrate-rich alcohol sources such as drinks made with fruit juices and beer.
  3. Stick to dry wines and spirits such as cognac, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, vodka and whiskey. These are all basically zero carbs, making them ideal choices for staying low carb.
  4. Eat as much protein as you want, but stick to low fat sources.
  5. For effective fat loss, this should be limited to one evening per week. If you apply the protocol and as long as and your diet is on point for the rest of the week, you will lose fat on a weekly basis.

Basically, the nutritional strategy outlined here is all about focusing on substrates that are least likely to cause net synthesis of fat during hypercaloric conditions. Alcohol and protein, the main macronutrients of this day, are extremely poor precursors for de novo lipogenesis. Alcohol suppresses fat oxidation, but by depriving yourself of dietary fat during alcohol consumption, you won’t be storing anything. Nor will protein cause any measurable de novo lipogenesis. 

High protein intake will also compensate for the weak effect of alcohol on satiety and make you less likely to cheat on your diet when you’re drinking. A nice bonus after a night of drinking is that it effectively rids you of water retention, therefore making you wake up leaner.

Remember that this a short-term strategy for those that want to be able to drink freely without significantly impacting fat loss progress or causing unwanted fat gain.

Summary

Tldr; Alcohol’s Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is 20% of the ingested calories, making it a close second to protein.

Alcohol also does not affect satiety like other nutrients. It’s much easier to indulge in liquid calories than it is for calories coming from solid food sources. This dis-inhibition of impulse control following intoxication more often than not encourages overeating.

Regular alcohol consumption affects nutrient partitioning favorably via improvements in insulin sensitivity. Additionally, moderate alcohol consumption improves insulin sensitivity, lowers triglyceride concentrations and improves glycemic control, not only in healthy people, but also in those with type 2 diabetes.

Studies have also consistently shown that moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. Alcohol also contributes to a healthier and disease-free life by protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, the common cold, different types of cancers, depression as well as many other diseases. It can even almost be said beyond doubt that moderate alcohol consumption is healthier than complete abstinence.

The impact of alcohol on testosterone levels is over-exaggerated. Having a few drinks once or twice per week (even more frequent than that) would have hardly any effects higher than a 10% decrease on your testosterone levels. When drinking more than 10 drinks on a daily basis, testosterone levels drop considerably, ranging between 25-55%, but if you drink that much you probably have bigger problems to worry about. 

The effects of alcohol on recovery are also pretty mild.

The effect of alcohol on fat storage is very similar to that of carbs. By suppressing fat oxidation, dietary fats are able to be stored with ease. However, while conversion of carbs to fat may occur once glycogen stores are saturated, DNL via alcohol consumption seems less likely.

If you’re tired of getting no results in the weight room and you’re ready to level up your life you can work directly with me. For any questions shoot me a DM on Telegram or via the contact page.

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