Oh, yay. Another fad. And this one is just as ridiculous as most of the others. In Charlotte there are bars offering yoga classes; yoga, bootcamp, and cardio studios offering classes outside of bars; obstacle course races selling beer at the finish line; and all sorts of other nonsense that places beer into the hands of people who have just exercised (sometimes very intensely).
Here is my opinion: That’s stupid.
Proponents of drinking beer after exercise claim that beer has a whole bunch of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and “good carbs” (see my article about carbohydrates). And although really dark ales and microbrewery blends have more nutrients than the highly processed light beers made by big-batch mega-corporations, they still don’t have enough of these benefits to outweigh one very simple truth: Alcohol undermines your fitness goals.
If you choose to believe that drinking a beer after exercise helps your gains, then at least be honest enough with yourself to admit that what you actually want is to spend time in a social setting undermining your workout. And that’s fine. But don’t do it thinking that beer is going to help you grow muscle, shed fat, or recover more quickly.
It does exactly the opposite.
Beer undermines your exercise and fitness gains
Alcohol is a diuretic. It causes you to pee. This in turn leads to dehydration, which then undermines all sorts of processes in the body. Let’s look at muscle gains, body composition, and post-workout recovery.
Alcohol inhibits the formation of new muscle fibers by blocking the process of protein synthesis, the means by which the body uses the protein in food to build and repair muscle fibers that have been torn at the cellular level by exercise. Alcohol also dampens the production of testosterone (the masculinizing hormone the tells the body to create and hold onto muscle mass), while also speeding up the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen. Estrogen is a feminizing hormone that tells the body to get rid of muscle and to store fat. Having higher levels of estrogen is going to prevent dem gainz, brah.
Speaking of estrogen and fat storage: If you think drinking beer after running is a great way to rehydrate and get electrolytes… well, you’re wrong. Sorry. No, I’m not: I’m not sorry. Again, alcohol causes you to lose water. Also, because alcohol causes estrogen levels to rise, it cannot help you improve your body composition. You have just reversed the very metabolic response you were hoping to achieve by doing your conditioning session. You will store fat, not burn it, because alcohol also causes your whole body lipid oxidation to plummet. In other words, your body will essentially cease using fat for energy. If you do want to use supplements to improve fat loss (once you have maximized your other efforts at exercise and diet), consider building your own fat burning stack with the recipe I provided in a past blog entry. You can find the components for it here.
Alcohol metabolizes to a stored energy source called acetate. Your body burns the most accessible forms of energy first. Normally this would be the glucose in your blood and the glycogen in your muscles. Once that is depleted your body moves on to stored fat. However, acetate is easier than sugar to burn, so your body uses it first. This means you have created a caloric buffer you then have to get through before you can use glucose, before you can use glycogen, and before you can access fat stores. By drinking alcohol, you are creating an environment where it’s even more difficult to burn enough calories to shed fat.
A much healthier alternative would be a ginger beer whose first and primary ingredient is actual ginger. Ginger helps regulate blood sugar, reduces inflammation and pain, and provides essential vitamins and minerals. It also improves metabolism and fat storage. You can learn more about ginger here.
One final nail in this coffin: There is no such thing as low carb alcohol. Carbohydrates and proteins both have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, putting it nearly on par with fat (in terms of energy density). Vodka, contrary to urban myth, is not a low calorie option: One ounce of it has nearly 100 calories. And how many shots of it did you drink that night at the party (mixed with which juices and syrups)?
Now for recovery: Sleep is the only time your body gets to heal and grow (see my article on rest). Testosterone doesn’t work alone in rebuilding and creating muscle. Human Growth Hormone is also involved, and you produce the highest levels of this while you’re asleep. Guess what? Alcohol suppresses that too. It does so by interrupting the natural rhythms of sleep, which then undermines the pituitary gland’s ability to release growth hormone.
Now put the beer down, and drink a glass of water. Stop making all this so complicated. Fads are fads. They are distractions. They are obstacles. And they waste your time and effort. Stick to the fundamentals: Work hard, hydrate often, eat clean, and sleep deeply. Be patient with the long term process.