Most men want to build muscle, most men also enjoy drinking beer. But does drinking beer prevent you from building muscle? In this article, I will take a look at the research in a bid to find out exactly what happens.
As part of a balanced diet, and in moderation, beer does not prevent you from building muscle. However, beer drunk immediately after a workout can blunt protein synthesis which can affect muscle building in the short term.
But how can you fit both beer and resistance training into your life? How much beer is too much? How long after a workout should you leave it before drinking? I will look into all of this and give you the ultimate guide to drinking beer and building muscle. It’s what beer n biceps is all about!
Back in the day, Arnold Schwarzenegger used to believe that drinking a glass of brandy post-workout would increase the anabolic response to weight training. Sadly, this turned out to be false, and The Oak no longer promotes this theory.
But there certainly is evidence that long-term heavy drinking can affect muscle mass. Sadly, it is not a positive effect. Chronic alcohol consumption can increase cortisol production, while cortisol has many positive effects.
Chronically high cortisol can be very bad for you. One of the effects of chronically high cortisol is a reduction in muscle mass, particularly fast-twitch muscle fibres.
The worry is that drinking beer all the time could not only prevent you from building muscle, but it could actually lead to a reduction in muscle mass!
Of course, this probably isn’t a surprise. If you want big muscles then you need to spend less time at the bar and more time under the barbell (I will defend that joke to the death). There aren’t too many alcoholics who are also bodybuilders. The two lifestyles are quite incompatible.
Chronic alcohol abuse is obviously not going to help with muscle gain, but what about moderate drinking? The two forms of drinking are often lumped in together, but they are clearly very different. My articles on beer and health issues have repeatedly shown this to be true.
It’s the classic argument, does a bad deed undo a good deed? Before we get into the science of it all. Let’s just look at it from a different point of view. Instead of asking “does drinking after a workout ruin it?” why not ask “does exercising before a drink help me stay healthy?”.
Exercise is nearly always a good thing. The idea that you should avoid exercising if you plan on going to the pub later is a little crazy in my opinion!
Anecdotally, some of my worst drinking experiences occurred after I have exercised. There was the time I ran a 10km race and then went to a house party (spoilers: it ended with me throwing up everywhere). Or the time I went straight from the gym to a pub and stayed there for six hours (spoilers: it ended with me throwing up everywhere).
Exercise can cause you to become dehydrated, particularly exercise that is very intense or exercise that has been performed in very hot conditions. If you don’t hydrate yourself properly afterwards, you may find that you start drinking your beer a lot faster than usual. Check out my article on beer and hydration to find out more.
Combine this with a lack of post-exercise food, and you are going to get a lot drunker than usual.
But does that mean that the workout was ruined? I’m not so sure. It all depends on the quality of the exercise and the quantity of the beer! Having a quick post-workout pint with your buddy after kicking his arse at squash isn’t going to undo the benefits of the workout. But seven pints certainly will.
If you exercise several times per week, then a big piss up on one of those days may temporarily undo the good work of your last workout, but overall you are still making good progress. However, celebrating every workout with beer is going to prevent you from making real progress.
Building muscle mass is as much about good recovery strategies as it is lifting weights. If you are not eating enough, sleeping enough, and managing inflammation enough, then you won’t see progress. You want to have a high protein diet, as this is necessary for building muscle too.
Drinking a beer after your workout is unlikely to make too much difference to any of this. Provided your other strategies are still in place. However, drinking several beers afterwards can inhibit recovery.
Not only does alcohol dehydrate you (as mentioned above), but it can also increase cortisol. Alcohol blunts protein synthesis (the process in which muscle is built using protein), and it can also affect sleep.
One beer after a workout is fine, provided you also drink some water or an isotonic drink to hydrate you. You could probably get away with two beers, but any more than that and it is going to begin to affect your workout recovery.
Okay, no need to panic. Firstly, the occasional piss up is not going to ruin months of hard work. Worst case scenario, you will wake up tomorrow with a bad case of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and a nasty hangover.
If that doesn’t sound worth it, then here is a seven-point plan for drinking beer after a workout.
This is one of those questions that have multiple answers.
Yes, you can exercise while hungover.
But it depends on how hungover you are, and what exercise you are planning on doing. Many people swear that sweating out a hangover can really help to relieve some of the symptoms.
But is that actually true?
Most of the symptoms of a hangover are due to dehydration, and sweating can dehydrate you further. So I don’t really see how that can help.
My personal belief (and this is pure guesswork) is that exercising, or using steam rooms or saunas only works because the person doing it is drinking more water than usual.
Think about it, sweating your arse off on an exercise bike while hungover is always sone with a giant bottle of Evian or Volvic next to you. So, you are actually drinking more water than you would while lying in bed cursing the world.
If you have ever tried exercising while hungover you will know that doing so without water is a terrible idea. Drinking water and NOT exercising has been shown to work wonders, so my hypothesis seems to hold up.
But if you need to/want to exercise, and you aren’t too hungover then gentle exercise is not a bad idea. Deadlifts, barbell squats, and thousands of burpees though? Terrible idea.
Remember, bad hangovers can affect your coordination, they can lead to fatigue, and they can also affect reaction time. Which is why pre-game pints hasn’t been a thing in football since Tony Adams went sober.
Okay, so you have decided to exercise with a hangover. First thing’s first … Are you sure?
It won’t be enjoyable, it probably won’t help your hangover, and it also won’t help your training regime!
Still? Well okay then.
Here are five tips for exercising while hungover:
That last point is very important. Your body can survive a bad night of drinking after a workout, but it can’t do that indefinitely. You need to focus on recovery, particularly after a hungover workout. Get more sleep, drink more water, consume more protein, and take the next day off.
A couple of beers post-workout are not going to affect muscle building. Beer has many beneficial properties to it, and it is nowhere near as bad as it is made out to be. When it is drunk in moderation.
The whole point of beer n biceps is not to portray a lifestyle that involves pushing yourself to the limits. You cannot build a bodybuilder physique and go out for five pints and a curry every Friday with your mates.
The point of beer n biceps is to show you how to enjoy a beer in moderation while pursuing an active and healthy life. That can involve building muscle. It can also involve burning fat. It can also involve drinking a few cans of beer on a Saturday night.
The issue with post-workout beers is not so much that they will prevent you from building muscle. It is more the effect they will have on your hydration, on your sleep, and ultimately on your recovery.
There are many examples of athletes who have been able to perform at elite level while also enjoying a beer or two. But at some point they made a choice. Binge drinking or success. I’m not asking you to make that same decision. I’m just laying out the facts.
I’ve had this same conversation with myself. Could I have a better body if I gave up beer altogether? Probably, though my beer intake is surprisingly small. I would have a better body if I exercised more, consumed more protein, and stopped letting my Mrs do the shopping!
It’s really all about finding a balance that you are happy with. If you are not happy with your strength or your physique, then you should make changes. But if you are happy with either, then your lifestyle is balanced for you.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.