If his autobiography is to be believed, Arnold Schwarzenegger partied (a lot) in his bodybuilding heyday. Beer and wine was most certainly involved. It has even been rumoured that he used to pep up his protein shakes with rum.
Arnie is one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, so perhaps there is some truth in this particular nugget of (albeit-ironic) bro-science?
Or, is it more likely, as it has long been believed, that you’ll lose all your gains at the bottom of a pint glass?
Booze, you lose?
So, what exactly is the problem with boozing after a workout?
Well, recent studies have shown that drinking alcohol after training can prohibit protein synthesis, hinder muscle growth and slow the recovery process.
In one study, consuming the equivalent of about 7 beers post workout inhibited protein synthesis in a 150lb male[i] and, in another[ii], protein synthesis was supressed by 24% after consuming 71 grams of pure alcohol (about 5 beers).
It is important to note that both these studies involved the consumption of large amounts of alcohol. In the second study, the scientists found that protein synthesis was not suppressed after just 28 grams of alcohol was consumed (about 2 beers).
The research also showed that alcohol only decreased protein synthesis when it was consumed over 24 hours post-training, but not sooner.
What about all the extra calories?
Booze contains 7 calories per gram of alcohol. Which sounds macro-bustingly calorific, but physiologically it is a little more complicated than that.
Our body has no storage facility for alcohol, so when we drink, our body turns all its attention to processing and getting it out of our system as quickly as possible. The body basically goes into an alcohol-activated high alert mode which creates a thermic effect, using more calories to process alcohol than carbs, fat or protein.
But, whilst this means that alcohol consumption can make you burn more calories, whilst the body is busy working its ass off trying to processing the booze, the processing of other macros shuts down, so it can suppress fat burning.
The upshot of all this is that, for most people, it isn’t the calories in beer that end up causing the problem, but the inevitable lack of dedication to the gun show that results from inebriation.
We’ve all woken up to the horror of seeing a box of half-eaten special pizza, with side of fries and kebab meat on the bedside table. It’s actually this frivolous midnight munching that is usually the culprit of booze-related weight-gain, not the booze itself.
The truth about that post-training pint
So, was Arnie really chugging back the sauce like a freshman at a frat party? Given his mind-set and dedication to bodybuilding, although Arnie may have drunk plenty of beer in the 70’s, it probably wasn’t during competition prep – and clearly it wasn’t enough to hinder his progress.
The studies indicate that in moderation, drinking won’t necessarily turn you from muscle to moobs.
In fact, there are a number of widely recognised health benefits to drinking, including a reduced risk of blood clots and heart disease. You should consume no more than one or two drinks a day for these health benefits.
Similarly, if you really want to drink without gunning your gains, stick to one or two glasses post-workout. Obviously, this requires a certain level of self-restraint. If one drink usually leads to two, three, four and ends with drunk-texting your ex at 2am whilst hugging a box of chicken strips, you might want to stick with the safety of your protein shake.