Alcohol and Exercise: Negative Effects

If you work hard in the gym all week in order to achieve a lean, muscular physique but indulge in alcohol consumption during the weekend, beware.  Alcoholic beverages can kill muscle gains in a hurry and make it difficult to lose unwanted body fat.

 Alcohol and Hormone Levels

Four hormones that most influence the body’s ability to synthesize muscle tissue and break down fat tissue are: testosterone, estrogen, cortisol and insulin.  While fluctuations in the levels of these hormones occur regularly in normal, healthy adults, lifestyle factors greatly contribute to the extent and frequency of hormone level fluctuations.  For those who desire to achieve and maintain a lean, muscular physique, adherence to sound nutritional principles are critical.  Regularly drinking alcohol can dramatically impact a person’s ability to lose weight and gain muscle.

Testosterone and Estrogen

Scientists long believed that alcohol consumption caused a rapid and dramatic drop in testosterone levels in both men and women.  This theory supported the thought process that regular alcohol consumption would lead to loss of muscle mass, increase of body fat and mood changes.
There is an inverse relationship between testosterone and estrogen levels in the body.  Generally, as testosterone levels drop, estrogen levels increase.  Estrogen is known to promote fat storage in the human body, particularly in the hips, thighs and breasts.  When estrogen levels are elevated, body fat can easily accumulate in these areas. 

Most recently, scientists have determined that alcohol consumption may actually cause a brief spike in testosterone levels.  This may explain the aggression that is sometimes demonstrated in individuals when over-consumption of alcohol occurs.  While a brief spike in testosterone levels may occur, it is short-lived and has no benefit to the drinker.  In fact, the subsequent drop in testosterone levels may actually briefly elevate estrogen production. 

When a person consumes an alcoholic beverage, whether it is beer, wine or spirits, a biological process occurs that ultimately raises blood sugar levels and stimulates an insulin response.  Insulin’s role is to reduce the level of sugar in the blood through a process that alters the sugar molecule at the atomic level.  This alteration causes blood sugar levels to drop and facilitates the body’s fat storage process. 

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress.  While cortisol plays an important role in blood pressure regulation and helps manage the body’s energy systems during times of distress, long-term elevated cortisol levels can have a detrimental impact on muscle mass and body fat levels.  During and immediately following an alcohol drinking session, cortisol levels are elevated growth hormone levels are reduced.. 

Over-indulgence of alcohol on a regular basis will cause the body to release cortisol more frequently.  This may result in excess accumulation of body fat, especially in the mid-section of the torso within the body cavity.  This type of fat, called visceral fat, is difficult to eliminate and results in a bloated appearance and a distended abdomen.  Accumulation of visceral fat caused from alcohol abuse is often referred to as a “beer belly.”  Also, muscle tissue is metabolized for energy when high levels of cortisol are present. 


After consuming a few alcoholic beverages, do you get the munchies?  Many people do and it is a direct result of the chemical reaction that occurs in the brain when alcohol intoxication occurs.  Further, inhibitions are reduced when a person is under the influence of alcohol and it becomes difficult to adhere to a strict diet plan.   

Alcohol’s Nutritional Value

Alcohol carries seven calories per gram, slightly less than the number of calories that are found in a gram of fat.  Because alcohol cannot be efficiently used by the body, it is quickly broken down into sugar, which causes an insulin response. 

Alcohol Dependence

Serious fitness enthusiasts should consider the negative impact alcohol can have on body composition and health.  Many people maintain a healthy lifestyle that incorporates an exercise program and diet for fat loss and muscle building.  However, some of these people are or will become dependent on alcohol.  For example, an alcoholic bodybuilder may not initially experience heath, familial or legal consequences until the disease of alcoholism progresses into middle or late stages.  To be sure, if the alcoholic bodybuilder continues to abuse alcohol, his muscle mass and body fat levels will be negatively affected. 

A common misconception about alcoholism is that alcohol abusers are malnourished, have poor hygiene and are constantly intoxicated.  These characteristics more accurately described a person who is in the late stages of the disease of alcoholism.  Many people who may be susceptible to alcoholism may only exhibit mild symptoms early on, but as addiction takes hold, the disease progresses to the point where the person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. 

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