Let’s face it:
You enjoy alcohol. It makes you feel good, it helps you loosen up, and it calms your nerves.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But you’ve probably heard people say that you should cut alcohol out if you ever want to get in good shape.
Is that the truth? Let’s find out.
How Alcohol Impacts Your Hormones
The common argument against alcohol while building muscle is that it leads to lower testosterone levels.
Given that testosterone plays a huge role in physical development, it makes sense to think that alcohol consumption equals muscle loss.
The problem is, research doesn’t find this to be true. For example, in one study, researchers had male subjects drink 30 to 40 grams of pure alcohol daily (1). Their testosterone levels dropped by an average of 6.8 percent after three weeks. For instance, if their testosterone was a healthy 600 ng/dL, that meant it had fallen to around 560 ng/dL. That’s pretty insignificant.
In other studies, large amounts of alcohol showed more significant drops in testosterone (up to 23 percent). Still, these were temporary, and levels got back to normal within a couple of days (2, 3, 4). Some of the research also showed that physical exertion before drinking the alcohol prolonged the testosterone-suppressing effects.
In other words, from a hormonal standpoint, small to moderate amounts of alcohol won’t lead to significant drops in testosterone or prevent you from building muscle.
How Alcohol Impacts Your Motivation And Workout Quality
Yes, having some alcohol won’t stop you from building muscle on a physiological level. But this doesn’t mean it can’t impact muscle gain in other ways. Specifically, you need to ask yourself, “How would consuming alcohol make me behave?”
Most notably, alcohol can lead to a hangover with symptoms like headaches, irritability, fatigue, and muscle weakness (5). This would undoubtedly impact your workout quality and force you to take it easy. In many cases, people skip workouts altogether. The headache alone is often a reason enough to do so.
Plus, alcohol has been known to disrupt sleep, which isn’t exactly good for your energy levels, productivity, or muscle-building abilities (6, 7). So, it’s important to enjoy some alcohol, but avoid going overboard as that can worsen sleep quality.
In other words, while no solid research suggests that alcohol stops muscle gain directly, it can do so indirectly. By worsening training quality and reducing our motivation, we can find ourselves having sub-optimal workouts on days after drinking alcohol. This can have a significant long-term impact on those who drink regularly.
The Bottom Line
Small to moderate amounts of alcohol won’t impact muscle gain. To minimize the interference, drink responsibly, avoid drinking too often, and plan for a recovery day after a night of drinking.
So long as you do these, the occasional drink won’t be detrimental to your progress.