Exercise is normally followed by a recovery period involving repair a nd muscle-building. However, a recent study published in PLOS one found consuming 12 units of alcohol ( five pints or six double vodkas) after training led to a 37% reduction in muscle protein synthesis compared to drinking a protein shake.
They also found that drinking a protein shake and alcohol still led to a 24% reduction in MPS compared to a protein drink alone.
So, having a protein “rescue” drink or meal after a few pints is only partially effective. This is due to the way alcohol inhibits muscle growth. It used to be thought that drinking a lot of alcohol made it difficult to get amino acids- the building blocks of protein- into the bloodstream. But this study found there was no difference in the concentration of amino acids in the blood, regardless of whether alcohol was consumed or not.
So amino acids were still reaching the muscle but were not beung used as effectively. It appears alcohol directly inhibits parts of the signalling cascade inside the muscle. This new research shows alcohol inhibits a complex called mTOR, which is responsible for muscle-building. Therefore, regardless of what nutrients are consumed along with it, alcohol directly inhibits MPS.
If you do have a few drinks, a protein shake or high-protein meal will not eliminate the detrimental effects. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consume protein or carbohydrate after exercise if you know you’ll be drinking later.
If you are going to drink you need to be smart about what you have and how much. You should also ensure you follow sound recovery strategies before having a drink. This could include rehydrating with a 20-30g protein and carbohydrate intake for glycogen resynthesis (depending on your sport or activity).
At this point it’s unclear whether there’s a dose- response relation ship between alcohol intake and reductions in protein synthesis but it does seems the logical conclusion. Therefore, it’s worth minimising alcohol intake wherever possible. And not just for muscle gains- your general health will benefit too.
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