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Drinking alcohol after training

Does it wash away your gains?

Some of us probably do it on a regular basis: schedule a quick but serious gym session in the weekend just hours before hitting the club. And somebody might have told you that your whole work-out will have been for nothing if you consume alcohol in the hours after your work-out. But is there any truth in that?

Cheers to #gains

Australian researchers from the RMIT University in Melbourne were intrigued by this question and decided to assess this. In their study that was published in the scientific journal Plos One, participants performed an intensive work-out on three occasions, each two weeks apart. The participants received a different type of recovery drink following each session/trial. This approach was used to try and tease out the possibly negative effect of alcohol consumption on skeletal muscle protein synthesis (the process that drives muscle growth).

The participants in the study received one of the following recovery drinks immediately after a heavy session of concurrent training (a combination of resistance training and endurance training):

  1. Carbohydrate and alcohol mix
  2. Protein shake and alcohol mix
  3. Protein shake only

During each of the three trials, skeletal muscle protein synthesis was measured following consumption of the recovery drink. The amount of alcohol that the participants consumed was based on bodyweight and on average represented 12 (!) standard glasses of alcohol.

"Muscle protein synthesis was observed to be higher when the protein shake was consumed without alcohol"

The results of the study were very interesting. Despite the fact that during two of the three trials the participants consumed alcohol, the researchers observed a significant increase in muscle protein synthesis in all trials as a result of the gym session. However, muscle protein synthesis was higher when alcohol was combined with the consumption of a protein shake than when alcohol intake was combined with carbohydrate intake. Furthermore, muscle protein synthesis was observed to be even higher when the protein shake was consumed without alcohol!


So, does this mean that you should avoid the consumption of alcohol on the days that you perform a work-out? Well, based on this study, that seems to indeed be the best approach. But, you could think that consuming 12 glasses of alcohol during a night out is far more than you usually intend on doing. Unfortunately, this study does not provide any insight in whether the intake of less than 12 glasses of alcohol (1 drink even) negatively affects skeletal muscle protein synthesis. So until more research provides us with definitive answers, it might be wise to avoid consuming alcohol following your work-out to maintain your ability to maximize muscle recovery and muscle growth. However, in case avoiding alcohol might turn out to be too challenging, then at least try and consume your protein shake to benefit just a bit more from your work-out.  

Jean Nyakayiru Ph.D, Luuk Hilkens MSc. and Maarten Overkamp Ph.D(c)

Exercise and Nutrition metabolism researchers at Maastricht University, sharing practical research knowledge through SportSciencePro.

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