Back when I worked in a private sector corporate job, my boss pulled me aside one day and gave me a piece of advice: Never be the bearer of bad news. Almost always I try to abide by that rule. You make more friends with honey than you do with vinegar, and nobody likes the cold, harsh truth. Nevertheless, when it comes to the interplay between drinking alcohol and achieving your fitness goals, I’m not one to sit here and bullshit.
If you’re one of those people who enjoys going out and getting plastered every weekend or simply can’t do without your nightly three glasses of wine, it’s likely that you’re sabotaging your fitness goals. Whether it’s fat loss or lean muscle building, alcohol carries a slew of negative effects that can torpedo your progress. Sometimes the effects are relatively subtle, while other times alcohol is the key variable standing between you and that lean, muscular, healthy physique you’ve always wanted.
To be clear, consuming alcohol in small quantities can produce a handful of positive benefits. For example, some studies suggest that drinking red wine in moderation improves heart health. Research also indicates that moderate beer consumption can bolster the immune system and reduce harmful C-reactive proteins, which are linked to heart disease. But beyond that infrequent drink or two, alcohol starts to have diminishing returns on the positive side and significant negative ramifications for your physique goals.
Since I’m not one to fear monger without facts to back it up, here are the five reasons you may want to think twice about making that Corona, Coors Light, or cabernet sauvignon a regular staple of your regimen:
1. It Diminishes Your Sleep Quality.
Sure, having a few glasses of your favorite libation before bed might help you drift off faster. But you’ll be compromising the quality of the sleep you do log. For bodybuilders and even everyday gym goers, getting in quality shut-eye is essential since that’s when the muscles are primed for recovery and growth. In order to feel rested, we need to enter deep REM sleep. Alcohol can prevent that from happening, making for a night of tossing and turning followed by exhaustion the next day.
2. It Reduces Testosterone Levels.
For all the men out there who have low T levels, those drinks you’ve been throwing down may be landing you further in the hole. Alcohol decreases testosterone and increases estrogen in the body. Since the amount of lean muscle you can build is controlled by the level of free-flowing testosterone in the body, boozing on the regular has obvious implications for your mass gain goals. Reduced T levels impact not only muscle mass, but also definition, strength, and recovery rates. On the flip side, the increased estrogen that comes from excess alcohol consumption can trigger fluid retention and depositing of more body fat.
3. It Causes Dehydration and Cramping.
Ever notice that you make more frequent trips to the bathroom when you’ve got a few drinks in your system? That’s because alcohol acts as a diuretic. In order to break down the alcohol, the kidneys must filter large amounts of water. The more often you urinate, the higher at risk you are for dehydration. In a dehydrated state, your body can’t work efficiently and you’ll wind up with painful, performance-impeding cramps.
4. It Promotes Fat Storage.
If you think about your basic macronutrients, one gram of protein or carbs contains four calories and one gram of fat contains nine calories. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, but absolutely zero nutritional benefit. Although it technically qualifies as a carbohydrate, alcohol converts into a fatty acid rather than glucose like most carbohydrates and therefore is more likely to be stored as fat. Combine that with the late-night munchies you’re likely to consume while drunk – and the greasy morning-after breakfast you’ll chow down to avoid a hangover – and you’ve got a surefire recipe for weight gain.
For a little reality check, here’s the number of calories in some common alcoholic beverages:
And here’s the amount of physical activity you’d have to do if you wanted to burn off those calories:
5. It Hinders Your Body’s Ability to Process Key Nutrients.
Alcohol consumption undermines your body’s ability to absorb and use important micronutrients. This includes vitamin A (a potent antioxidant that helps your body recover from training), the B-complex vitamins (which play a vital role in metabolism), and vitamin C (which aids in maintaining healthy bones, vision, and overall immune system function).