How bad is drinking alcohol for you?

Feb 4th, 2013

Category: CrossFit

How bad is drinking alcohol for you?

IMG_7756

As a Coach at CrossFit Southie I field all sorts of questions, “How do I get stronger?”, “How can I lose weight?”, “Can I Park on the street?”, “How can I put on weight?”, “What should I be eating?”, “Why is it called a ‘Turkish Get-up’?”, “Where do babies come from?”. These question obviously range in subject matter and some subjects I have more knowledge of than others. Regardless, I try to answer these questions the best I can with the information that has been provided to me and what I have learned through my own personal experience. And if I don’t have the slightest clue the correct answer, I just make some stuff up. This being said, last week I was asked a question that no one had asked me at CF Southie before, “How bad is drinking alcohol for you?”

Now let me first say that we were talking in terms of strength training. This particular member wanted to know how he could put on lean muscle and get stronger. He told me that he had hit a plateau in his strength gains almost a year ago and not much had changed since. He had tried everything to break through this barrier and make some progress in his strength gains; different supplements, eating paleo, not eating paleo, upping his membership to unlimited, changing protein powders, however nothing seemed to help. He was still in the same spot he was a year ago, no increase in lean muscle mass and no gains in his strength. I was left scratching my head trying to figure out something different for him to try and shake things up. After some more discussion, he finally asked me “How bad is drinking alcohol for you?”

“AHHHH HAAAAAA!!!” I felt as if a lightbulb went off in my head. I should have thought of it sooner! This particular member is a younger cat. Been out of college for a year, lives in Southie, single, obviously likes to have a good time. I know exactly the situation he is in, because I was once in the same exact position. Fresh out of college, living on my own, making my own paycheck, going to the gym hard 5 days a week but taking saturday and sunday off. Didn’t drink much during the week either. Maybe few beers on Thursday night. Yet Friday through Sunday…. LOOK OUT! Basically 60 hours of non-stop drinking beers, eating pizza, logging a few hours a sleep, but overall just getting after it. I was young, dumb and full of…. Bud Light. My training also hit a big plateau my first couple years out of college, but at the time, I just chalked it up to getting older.

Anyway, back to the Southie Member. “How bad is drinking for you?” he asked, almost wincing waiting for an answer he didn’t want to hear. I put my hand on his shoulder, let out a long sigh and said “honestly, probably the worst thing you can do.” Now I am not going to get on a soap box and tell you all that you can’t have a few drinks. I believe it was Keith Richards who once said “Everything in moderation.” There have been a lot of studies saying how a drink every now and then is good for your heart because it thins your blood and promotes blood flow. However, in terms of wanting to get stronger and build muscle, crushing alcohol, wether it be red wine, light beer or tequila, is going to be a great inhibitor. Let me drop some knowledge….

When you work out, and I mean really work out, like we do at CrossFit, you completely break down your muscle fibers. Your muscles then need a few things to recover. Rest, water and fuel. With in 30 minutes of completing your workout it is recommend that you drink a protein shake, because protein promotes muscles recovery in a process known as Anabolism or “Protein Synthesis.” Now this protein shake is a quick blast of protein to your muscles when they are at their peak absorption point, right after working out. But the recovery of your muscles isn’t a 30 minute process. It actually takes several hours, sometimes even days, depending on how strenuous your workout is for your muscles to fully recover. Your muscles are constantly searching for fuel to aid the recovery process. Healthy fats, carbohydrates and animal proteins are all positive sources of fuel for your muscles and aid the protein synthesis process throughout this extended recovery phase. The continued breaking down and rebuilding of these muscles through protein synthesis is what eventually makes your muscles grow and helps you build strength. The more protein you consume throughout the day, the more fuel your body has to recover. Consuming water is also another imperative aspect of muscle recovery due to the fact that it helps your muscles absorb protein. However, alcohol, on the other hand, completely inhibits your muscles ability to recover.

Alcohol effects your bodies ability to absorb protein, halting the process of protein synthesis. Due to the fact that less protein is being absorbed and turned into muscle fiber, your body is not growing to it’s fullest. It slows down growth as well as hurts your recovery. There have been studies done that suggest that if you drink 3 or more alcoholic beverages within 8 hours of strength training you basically wasted your time at the gym. You will get nothing out of the previous training session due to the fact that by the time your body metabolizes and process the alcohol you consumed the protein synthesis process will be over, leaving your muscles depleted from the nutrients they needed to recover.

It is a known fact that alcohol also dehydrates you. As stated before your muscles need to be well hydrated in order to be healthy and recover. When you drink alcohol is puts great stress on your kidneys. After consuming alcoholic beverages the water in your body floods to your kidneys to help them pass the alcohol in your system. So instead of your H2O aiding the muscles’ abortion of the nutrients needed to grow it is at your kidneys helping your body metabolize alcohol. You ever wake up from a long night of drinking and your hamstrings feel like they are going to snap? This is due to the dehydration of the muscles, which will not only effect the recovery process, but also hurts your flexibility. Hydration is also a key part of performance. If you aren’t properly hydrated your energy levels in your next work out will be greatly effected.

One of the most recognized negative effects of alcohol is the calories and carbohydrates that are found in alcoholic beverages. We have all been concerned at one time or another with growing the dreaded “beer belly.” Due to this fact companies spend billions of dollars creating and marketing low calorie beers such as Bud Light, MIller 64, Mic Ultra. It is true that these beverages do have “Less” calories than your standard beer, but then again it is all relative. A Bud Light still has 147 calories in it. What good is 147 calories if you are still going to drink 10 beers? Thats 1470 calories! And not just calories, but empty calories. Empty Calories are calories that provide no nutrients or energy to the body. 3 Bud Lights have about the same amount of calories as a McDonalds Big Mac. Although a Big Mac does have some empty calories, it also has a bunch of calories that the body can use in creating energy as well as 25 grams of protein. Though I am not promoting everyone running out and grabbing a Big Mac for dinner tonight, I am simply explaining how it is probably a healthier option then drinking beers.

So there you have it. Just some cold hard facts! If you have hit a plateau in your strength numbers as of recent and can’t seem to find a way out of the rut, try cutting back your alcohol consumption. Maybe even try to take a couple weeks or a month (gasp!) off of drinking. Keep a record of where your numbers were before and after this experiment. I tried this myself a couple years ago and I couldn’t believe the results. My strength numbers increased dramatically, I lost body fat and my energy levels were through the roof. Not to mention the amount of money I saved. The results were so dramatic that, to this day, the frequency of my drinking as well as the amount of alcohol I consume when I do drink has decreased dramatically. I will continue this trend for the rest of my life.

Man, all that typing was exhausting! Now, someone get me a beer!

Strength
Squat Clean
3-3-3-1-1-1

WOD
10 minute amrap
3 Hang squat cleans (135,95)
3 Front squats (135,95)
3 shoulder to overhead (135,95)

Rest 5 minutes

Cash out
3 minutes of max wall climbs

L2 (95/65)
L1 (65/35)
ADV (165/110)

DISCUSSION 30 Comments

  1. ryan1331 11/12/2013 at 9:30 pm

    also, a side benefit is that when you cut back on drinking when you do eventually have a drink it’s way more potent…so you definitely save money and calories.

  2. Moni 02/06/2013 at 6:46 pm

    Great description. Have you read Never Diet Again by Sharny and Julius, it has such a beautiful explanation in the case for giving up alcohol.

  3. Brendan D 02/05/2013 at 6:52 pm

    I have read this post three times now and I still have no idea where babies come from.

  4. baykun 02/05/2013 at 1:56 pm

    “There have been studies done that suggest that if you drink 3 or more alcoholic beverages within 8 hours of strength training you basically wasted your time at the gym.”

    I’m interested in seeing these studies. Do you have a source?

  5. jason barrow 02/05/2013 at 1:56 am

    Squat Clean: 205×1
    WOD: 6+4 Rx
    Cash Out: 10

  6. JBo 02/05/2013 at 12:08 am

    Squat Clean: 165×1 (PR) I was SOOO psyched to get this one!
    WOD: 8 rounds + 6 – L2
    Cash-Out: 8 wall climbs

  7. Alec 02/04/2013 at 8:29 pm

    What about drinking beer while training though? That’s gotta be good!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQGppjP_LKA

    Excessive alcohol can also affect your sleep, and high quality sleep is important for recovery and strength gains, to say nothing of overall health.

    Alcohol can also damage your gut flora which can have bad health effects as well:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111031114949.htm

    Although it’s not kosher in the paleo realm, I’m a fan of drinking grassfed whole raw milk post workout, when I can get my hands on it (which is hard, as MA only allows raw milk sales on the farm). I feel real strong and well nourished when I do that. I won’t touch the processed skim milk stuff though. And it may not be recommended for those trying to slim down as it can pack a real punch with calories.

    Just like trusting cows more than chemists when it comes to eating butter over margarine, I prefer the straight up milk over protein powder. I think there’s evidence both ways on which is better.

  8. Andrea Rodgers 02/04/2013 at 8:10 pm

    Fabulous article. I think we all needed to hear that 🙂

  9. Petra 02/04/2013 at 4:15 pm

    Nice post, TJ!

    Just wanted to chime in and say that you don’t *have to* drink your post-WOD meal. Here are some great real food options: http://robbwolf.com/2012/05/31/11524/

    • Mel Mott 02/04/2013 at 7:54 pm

      Petra, to optimize protein synthesis after a workout, you want the dietary protein to reach your muscles within an hour post workout. When protein is in the liquid form, it is already partially processed so can get reach the bloodstream/muscles in about 30 minutes. On the other hand, protein in the form of food, will take at least 90 minutes and often longer.

      • NR 02/04/2013 at 9:55 pm

        I totally agree with this…the faster your broken down muscles get their nutrients, the better! I know there is a lot of discussion about whether or not whey protein is “true” paleo, but in the case of athletic performance, I think the game changes. Even Loren Cordain, one of the biggest names in Paleo research, recommends whey or egg protein post workout. This is also the time when you want some simple sugars (fruit perhaps) too…the sugars get the protein into your muscles even faster, restoring your glycogen stores etc etc. You also don’t want fat in your post workout meal/shake because that slows down the absorption.

        • Shamwow 02/05/2013 at 1:59 pm

          I’ve read a few articles/posts that Robb Wolf has put out arguing that post-workout (PWO) carbs aren’t always necessary. Having carbs PWO, he argues, should be used depending on the intensity and length of the workout. The thought is that you want to avoid an insulin spike with PWO carbs. Just a thought!

          • NR 02/05/2013 at 2:32 pm

            I agree with the idea that the amount of post workout carbs should be vary depending on the intensity of the workout and type of workout too b ut am confused by the rest…I’ve read stuff from him and many others about the need for post workout carbs when it comes to muscle building, repair, and performance. do you have a link that shows how/why post workout carbs are unnecessary–I would be interested to read that…..

  • Rick G. 02/04/2013 at 3:49 pm

    i use grass-fed protein from evolve foods and recommend it. the rest of their snacks are good too. check it: http://shop.evolvefoods.com/product-p/snx-005.htm

  • Kelly 02/04/2013 at 2:19 pm

    hahaha. Keith Richards….
    I demand more of these posts from TJ.

    • Shamwow 02/04/2013 at 4:01 pm

      A former coworker used to say something similar: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

      I think Keith used the “including moderation” portion a little too much.

  • Lashway 02/04/2013 at 1:58 pm

    Great post!!

  • Shelby 02/04/2013 at 2:58 am

    I’d love to have the question addressed is crossfit really enough for a workout ? I’ve struggled with this for the past year or so spending hours at the gym before or after crossfit in fear of gaining weight . I have a relatively slow metabolism and come from a big boned family many who are obese. I’d love to gain lean muscle but every time I turn to crossfit and only crossfit 4-5x a week that dreaded belly pooch comes back ( mind you I eat fairly clean ).. No dairy no cheese some grains . And then I’m right back to my double sessions. So any solutions ?

    • Shamwow 02/04/2013 at 2:00 pm

      I would think that this is a nutritional issue. “Only” CrossFitting 4-5 times a week is actually a pretty full plate as far as training goes. I think taking a hard look at what and how much you’re eating is probably a good starting point. If you’ve got any questions or want a good starting point send me an email: [email protected]

    • Mike Quigley 02/04/2013 at 3:09 pm

      Shelby, I’m not an expert, but I’ll share my personal experience – the first 9 months at CFS I came diligently 3x per week and ate “fairly” clean, and had “some” grains. What I didn’t realize until the paleo challenge that my version of fairly clean and some grains was actually not very clean and alot of grains, and the grains were causing me to over-eat. During the 8 week paleo challenge I didn’t change my workout schedule at all – 3x per week at CFS – but I cleaned up my diet to be strict paleo (CFS paleo rules) and dropped 12 pounds pretty effortlessly and saw significant physical changes. I recommend tracking your food (I used livestrong.com, but there are a bunch). I also kept an eye on my carb and protein intake – I shot for less than 150g of carbs per day and about 150g of protein (i weigh 180 lbs). Seems you train pretty hard – I bet if you change your diet slightly you’ll see results without having to train as hard as you mention in your post.

      • Shelby 02/04/2013 at 7:56 pm

        Thanks mike ! If anything I assume I’m taking in maybe not enough carbs ? I eat eggs for breakfast lunch is always salad and deli turkey and dinner is meat veggie and half a sweet potato or 1/4 cup quinoa . I know I’m definitely not overdoing it on the carbs .. I’m a dietitian so nutrition is my thing . I’m actually on the skinnier side so I don’t want to lose weight. I actually would prefer to bulk up but whenever I try it seems to go to the undesirable areas :/ perhaps it’s genetics ? I did strict paleo for 2
        Months and lost too much weight but still had the pooch. So back to 1 carb choice a day seemed vital as I’m not a huge eater. And yes I do train hard .. I’m not one of those who half asses at cross fit So im unsure what other options are out there to bulk up in legs and arms and NOT in my stomach

        • Shelby 02/04/2013 at 8:04 pm

          I’m thinking it may be a protein thing . As an rd were always taught that protein needs should be no more than 30g per meal as that is the maximum amount a body can absorb at one time ( too much protein can be stored as fat ) and I’m not
          Much of a snacker so I would say I was only taking in 90g of protein max for my 130 lb frame ..

          • NR 02/04/2013 at 9:25 pm

            Hi Shelby, I would definitely agree that the reason you are not gaining muscle is that you are not eating enough protein. For muscle building, you want at least 1gram of protein per pound of lean body mass and some hard-gainers even go to 1.5 grams. Maybe adding in a healthy protein shake mid-morning or afternoon will add another 30 grams that will help you. Also, I think post-wo shakes are really essential on so many levels. Carbs are also necessary for muscle gain and you know which carbs are the best already. It’s definitely possible that you may just not be eating enough in general too…

            A question I have for you is are you getting enough sleep and are you under a lot of stress? It’s been scientifically proven that lack of sleep and high stress levels cause people to hold fat in their bellies because the stress and lack of rest cause high cortisol levels. I’ve read a ton of studies about this (I’ve been a trainer for a long time lol) and know a lot of people that have this issue.

  • NR 02/04/2013 at 9:33 pm

    Also, I do agree that genetics play a large role in muscle building, and muscle retention as well. I have a lot of friends and clients who lose weight, muscle, and strength when they don’t work out or fail to eat enough protein. One of my clients added protein shakes and more eggs to her diet and within a month her muscle definition increased dramatically. Learning our bodies and how our genetics work with and against us, is an ongoing process for most people. Our hormones change and our metabolisms change as we get older and just when we think we figured it out, something may change again!

  • shelby 02/05/2013 at 12:43 am

    ohh yess 🙂 …usually up until 1130 and up by 630 then 2 workouts post work followed by homework

  • JBo 02/04/2013 at 2:33 am

    Yeah, I do think a lot of them do have junk in them. Check out Life’s Basics Plant Protein. It’s definitely cleaner than the typical protein mixes you’d get at, for example, GNC. It looks and smells a bit interesting, but actually tastes great.

  • Sara 02/04/2013 at 2:06 am

    I’ve never used protein shakes after a workout. I try to avoid processed stuff as much as possible and I’ve always assumed protein powder has junk in it. Does anyone use a brand that is cleaner/organic/etc?

    • Michael Garrity 02/04/2013 at 4:38 am

      http://www.strongerfasterhealthier.com/ William Bunnell works for them he’s a Southie member hit him up on FB for a discount code

    • Kristin K 02/04/2013 at 11:43 pm

      Try ProEnergy whey protein by Energy First. Grass fed cows with no hormones. The company is in California and you have to order online. My uncle (a complete fit, health nut) found it and swears by it. I’ve been using for almost a year now and I like it a lot. I get vanilla and mix with frozen berries and a special seed mix I use.