Alcohol’s Effect on Diet, Training, and Lifestyle

by James Hoffmann, PhD | Mar 03, 2021

When beginning their fitness journey, many people have questions about alcohol. Can I drink on this diet? How much alcohol is okay? How often is okay? What kinds of drinks are least impactful? Although the research on this topic is fairly clear, the implications often drive people to make unsustainable choices. There is room for moderation, but informed choices are key!

The simple truth is this: alcohol has direct and downstream undesirable effects on your fitness and health goals. Alcohol consumption:

  • Decreases muscle growth potential
  • Makes muscle maintenance more difficult
  • Facilitates fat gain (both directly through added calories and indirectly through signaling
    mechanisms)
  • Limits recovery ability
  • Negatively impacts performance
  • Negatively impacts health

Generally, the more your drink, the worse the outcomes. This can be scaled absolutely by how much total alcohol you have per day or week, as well as relatively––how often you drink to the point of inebriation. Either way, the higher the total weekly alcohol consumption and the more time spent inebriated per week, the greater the negative impacts.

This information often leads people to take an all-or-nothing approach, removing alcohol entirely. This is fine for some, but for others who can drink in moderation and enjoy it, the abstinence approach might be an unnecessary extreme. Making alcohol taboo for a non-addicted person who enjoys it can increase its desirability leading to “binge-purge” behaviors and guilt.

Others try to “make-up” for alcohol consumption with extra exercise or decreased calorie intake. This might keep your calories-in, calories-out on point, but it can also amplify the damaging effects of alcohol (impacting recovery, muscle maintenance/growth, performance, and health). Punishing oneself with restriction or exercise for indulging can also lead unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Like most things, the best answer is very individual. Drinking in moderation can bring joy, distraction, and be a part of social interactions that enrich our lives. Aside from those with addiction facets to consider, moderation is probably the best way to go for most people when it comes to alcohol.