I live in a college town, so alcohol is a large part of the youth culture around these parts. There are bars galore and liquor stores on most major corners. Even gas stations and pharmacies stock enough booze to be considered liquor stores. We also have two major national liquor stores, Binny’s and Friar Tuck.
No matter what gym you go to here in town, Friday evening will be deserted. The few that do workout on Friday evenings occupy their time talking about how they need to hurry and get out of there so they can go drinking. As if putting in their time at the gym will cancel out the hours of alcohol consumption that will follow. In contrast, Monday evenings are the busiest at the gym – with many patrons sharing stories of their weekend exploits, trying to burn away the evils of the weekend. These are the same people you will see in the gym the week before spring break doing nothing but cardio and ab exercises.
Most of the people who approach me for advice are actually college students. Sadly, very few are actually willing to listen to the advice I offer. What they really want is that magic pill or secret to success that will allow them to maintain their poor diets and infrequent gym visits. I’m not judging and I’m not stereotyping. I was a college student once (just 8 years ago), and I have lived the same lifestyle. All I did was smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and sleep. I ate once or twice per day, and then I would eat again when I was loaded at 2:00am. I had a gym membership that I used infrequently. When I did workout it was the usual misguided workout that involved chest and arm exercises. Like many, I thought I worked so hard in the gym, but just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing results. I was drinking whey – why wasn’t I getting big?
When someone approaches me and asks how to get ripped, I have to ask, “How much do you drink?” They almost always laugh or smirk, as if I would be amazed by the actual consumption. I don’t ask because I want to know. I ask because I already know. I then tell them that the reduction or elimination of alcohol consumption alone will most likely yield results. Not surprisingly, many admit that they are not willing to make such a “sacrifice.”
There are several ways in which alcohol can harm your hard work in the gym. Chronic intake of alcohol is linked to suppressed protein synthesis (up to 20%) and myopathy. Myopathy is a condition characterized by muscle weakness and atrophy. Alcohol also affects the release of testosterone and growth hormone. Studies have shown that even casual drinkers of 2-3 beers per day showed a decrease in testosterone of over 6%. Alcohol consumption causes your liver to release substances that virtually cancel out the effects of testosterone in your body. Although moderate alcohol consumption is safe and can provide health benefits, such as the heart benefits from red wine, in terms of muscle growth the opposite is true.
Additionally, alcohol will dehydrate you and slows your ability to grow after a workout. Alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram. These are “empty” calories, meaning they are void of any nutritional value. In addition to loading your body with a bunch of excess calories, the consumption of alcohol also causes important vitamins and mineral to be drained from the body.
Since my adoption of the bodybuilding lifestyle, I have virtually eliminated alcohol from my life. Until my recent decision to take some time off, I had practically been in prep for two years. I can honestly say that from January 2011 to January 2013, I consumed alcohol maybe half a dozen times, usually as a single glass of wine or a beer at a family gathering. Even then that would only be if I was in ‘down time’ between shows – which was rare. In my earlier misguided days, I used to work out and then celebrate with a couple of beers and a bag of chips in front of the TV.
As with everything, moderation is important. Will the odd drink here and there hurt you? Probably not. If you are going to drink, you want to choose lower calories drinks with mixers such as tonic water or diet soda. These are the lesser of the evils when compared to the sugary cocktails out there. Light beer versus regular beer also provides some relief from calories, but the overall effect is the same.
Here are some calorie guidelines for alcohol:
1.5 oz 80 proof liquor = ~97 calories
12 oz beer = ~153 calories
12 oz light beer = ~103 calories
5 oz red wine = ~125 calories
5 oz white wine = ~121 calories