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!
10 minute amrap
3 Hang squat cleans (135,95)
3 Front squats (135,95)
3 shoulder to overhead (135,95)
Rest 5 minutes
3 minutes of max wall climbs