Is Beer Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Science-Backed)

Is beer good or bad for bodybuilding (science-backed)

Pros & Cons: Beer and Bodybuilding

Nothing beats a tall, cold, frosty pint of beer soothing every muscle after an intense workout. But considering its hefty health warnings and weight worries, it seems counterintuitive to indulge post-workout.

Being a nutrition professional and lover of moderate drinking, I curiously questioned why beers were handed out at the end of marathons and why so many fitness professionals “bottoms up” on beer. I hopped into the research and discovered if beer benefits or breaks your bodybuilding efforts.

So is beer good or bad for bodybuilding? The answer is that it can be good, but only in moderation. Beer is rich in energy promoting B vitamins and quickly absorbed carbs, can help you stick to your fitness routine via social strengthening, and won’t negatively impact your hydration. However, these benefits are exclusively associated with moderate drinking, which is defined as 1 beer per day. 

As you drinkers may know, this delicious confidence booster and party promoter can easily switch from a good time out to making a fool of yourself. Puking, missing precious sleep and recovery time, and being hungover and dehydrated — See ya later healthy eating and workout; hello Netflix and french fries. 

So let’s crack open a frothy, sit back and relax, and learn all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of beer and its impact on bodybuilding.

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A Brief Beer History

Beer is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by extracting raw materials (malk, barley) with water boiling (usually with hops) and fermenting it with yeast. Fermentation happens when bacteria, yeast, or other microorganisms break down a substance. This is what gives beer its refreshing bubbles and alcohol.

Beer has been an integral part of the human diet for ages. Britannica tells us that before 6000 BCE, beer was made from barley in Sumer and Babylonia. The basic brewing techniques made their way to Europe from the Middle East and during the Middle Ages, brewing started becoming a craft.

What Does Moderation Mean When It Comes To Drinking Beer?

I know what you’re thinking: if you have a two-liter “das boot” or giant wine glass that can hold a whole bottle does that count as practicing moderation with one drink?

Mayoclinic defines moderate alcohol use for healthy adults as up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

Here are some examples of one drink:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 millimeters)

  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 millimeters)

  • Spirits: (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 millimeters)

For health reasons, this recommendation is per day. This doesn’t mean you can save up your “one per day” quota and go ham on the weekend. Your health (and head) will hate you.

Alcohol Health Advantages

Moderate drinking has been linked to many benefits such as improved heart health. A review of scientific literature showed positive blood pressure and cholesterol changes from light and moderate alcohol consumption.

Alcohol can increase high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) which is the “healthy type” because it removes “bad” cholesterol from tissue and helps bring out of your body. The review also found a favorable potassium to sodium ratio. These are electrolytes that determine hydration and blood pressure levels.

Other potential reasons why moderate alcohol may help your heart is because of associated dietary changes, the silicon content in wine and beer (may help reduce the risk of hardening of arteries and lower cholesterol), a decreased risk for clotting, and ability to promote social interactions.

Heavy Drinking Dangers

For those of you have have had a few too many to drink and end up making friends with the toilet, you know first hand that alcohol is a poison to the body. Harvard University explains how exactly heavy drinking can take a toll on your body.

Excessive drinking can cause inflammation and damage to the liver. Chronic over drinking could result in fatal liver disease. Drinking can increase blood pressure and damage the heart muscles. It’s also been linked with several cancers such as mouth, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and rectum.

Mayoclinic helps us understand that heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as more than three drinks on a given day or more than seven drinks a week for women and men over age 65, and more than four on any day or more than 14 drinks a week for men 65 and younger.

They define binge drinking as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.

Related Article: Is Peanut Butter Good For Weight Loss?

Beer and Bodybuilding: 3 Main Benefits

Image courtesy of T-Nation

Image courtesy of T-Nation

When it comes to building your bod, balancing the booze with an overall healthy lifestyle and nutrition plan can help you physically and socially.

1. Energizing Vitamins and Carbs

  • B Vitamins 

B vitamins are essential for cell function and energy metabolism. They convert the energy that we get from food into forms we can use and support oxygen transport. According to Medical News Today, they also help maintain skin cells, brain cells, and body tissues. They help repair damaged muscles and can improve recovery time.

Before grabbing your beer bong for vitamin B, keep in mind that this is for one serving. Drinking too much actually depletes the B vitamins you already have.

  • Quick Carbs

When you don’t have proper fuel, or if you have super workout, your muscles use the stored form of glucose (glycogen) as fuel. This results in your muscles getting depleted and even some of the muscle proteins getting broken down — the opposite of what you want for bodybuilding.

Everybody is very different, but according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, eating about 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes after training will help you restore your glycogen and prevent muscle wasting.

A typical serving of beer (about 12-ounces) contains anywhere from seven to 14 grams of carbohydrates, with lighter beers containing as low as 2 grams. So depending on your weight and how hard you trained, beer may be a decent option for replenishing your carb energy.

Want an even better post-workout beverage? Consider milk for bodybuilding since it also contains essential dietary protein.

2. Social Groups: Stick to Your Routine

This may come as a surprise, but science has suggested that moderate drinking can actually make you more consistent with your workouts. A Psychological Science study revealed that conservative amounts of alcohol increases social bonding in groups.

Frontiers in Psychiatry reviewed several large population-based studies that showed a positive association between physical activity and alcohol intake. Research to date does not suggest that this relationship is necessarily harmful to health in non-dependent individuals.

Time after time, studies prove that our social networks can be a powerful motivator to encourage physical activity. So surrounding yourself with physically active and motivated people and creating a social network (with or without drinks) can help propel your bodybuilding fitness routine.

3. Won’t harm hydration

Evidence is not conclusive regarding beer after exercise helping hydration, but it appears that drinking cautiously will not negatively impact your overall hydration status.

In a Frontier Nutrition study, researchers examined the effects of moderate beer consumption after physical activity, on rehydration and fluid balance. Comparing 5% beer, low-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic beer, and an isotonic sports drink, they concluded there was no drastic difference in net fluid balance between the beverages.

In a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition crossover study, researchers tested the effects of exercising in the heat and if beer helped prevent water and electrolyte loss. After dehydrating exercise in the heat, participants were given either mineral water or up to 660 ml regular beer followed by water. The beer intake group had no harmful effects on hydration markers.

Certain beers are created to help with hydration. USA Today featured an article on Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s SeaQuench Ale which is specifically manufactured to quench thirst. In the Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, researchers found that beer’s dehydrating effect can be decreased by adding electrolytes and lowering the alcohol percentage a bit.

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Beer and Bodybuilding: 3 Negatives of Heavy Drinking

Image Courtesy of Stacked Labs

Image Courtesy of Stacked Labs

The dark side of drinking is that not everyone who likes to drink, stops at just one. Heavy drinking can take a tough toll on your body while breaking down bodybuilding progress.

1. Hangover Knocks You Out

We covered why a bit of beer won’t harm hydration, but here we’re going to discuss why too much will lead to dehydration and a bad hangover.

Alcohol is a diuretic which basically tells your kidneys to release more water. This results in an effect that makes you pee more (“breaking the seal”) and leads to headaches and nausea — hellooo hangover.

If you’re hitting the bar right after your bootcamp, too much alcohol can cause inflammation, making it more difficult for your body to repair and recover. To see muscle gains, making time for rest and repair is essential. If you’re gulping glass after glass, your body will be focused on metabolizing the alcohol instead of recovering from the workout.

It’s normal to want to grab a drink after a hard workout. One study even showed that we drink more alcohol on gym days. If you are going to drink, make sure to still eat a balanced meal and drink lots of water, aiming for one glass of water for every beer.

2. Beer Belly

Weight gain or loss comes down to energy balance — how much you eat versus how much you burn — as well as physiologic factors such as body composition, gut bacteria, and hormones.

Alcohol contains a solid amount of calories (7kcal per gram) so when you drink you’re getting those calories plus extra from the carb content of the brew.

Here are some examples of how many calories are in beer:

Light beer 

  • Michelob Ultra, Bud Light, Miller Light

  • 60-110 kcal per 12-ounce serving

Moderate beer

  • Stella Artois, Budweizer, Becks, Guinness

  • 110-150 kcal per 12-ounce serving

Heavy beer

  • Blue moon, Sierra Nevada, Craft beers

  • 150-250 kcal per 12-ounce serving

When you drink alcohol, it gets absorbed and passes through your liver. It continues to circulate through your liver until broken down into a chemical called acetate. The problem is that acetate inhibits fat-burning, moving you away from bodybuilding goals.

The hormone testosterone is a key player in muscle growth and fitness performance. In one study, moderate alcohol consumption resulted in testosterone decreasing in men but no effect was found in women. Heavy drinking can impact hormone levels. However, more research is needed when it comes to limited amounts.

A beer belly isn’t just the opposite of a bodybuilder’s body, it’s also a sign of ill health. WebMD explains that belly fat in the midsection is linked with a variety of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

3. Missed Sleep and Midnight Munchies

Having a nightcap before bed seems like a good idea. It helps make you sleepy and relaxed right? Especially if you’re stressed, it seems like alcohol can help, but it actually makes matters worse.

According to WebMD, alcohol and a good night’s sleep don’t mix. In a review of 27 studies, it was concluded that alcohol does not improve sleep quality. It was shown that alcohol allows healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while but ends up reducing high quality rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Neuroscientist and sleep expert, Matthew Walker, warns that not getting enough high quality sleep (seven to nine hours per night) impacts our physical and mental performance, making it near impossible to get a good training session in. He also describes how the overtired brain and body make us vulnerable to disease such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, obesity, stroke and chronic pain.

Sleep gives your body time to recover, heal, and build muscles that were worked during exercise.

We’ve all been there. Going out for a bender and eating midnight pizza hits the spot! Alcohol diminishes our willpower to say no. A recent study even confirmed that alcohol sensitizes the brain’s response to food aromas, increasing food intake.

If you drink on an empty stomach, you’re setting yourself up for a blood sugar rollercoaster. Say if you grab that beer without eating. Your blood sugar will peak then crash, leading to fatigue, hunger, and cravings for the junkie stuff.

Even if you eat but have a few too many, alcohol can lower your blood sugar, making you particularly hungry the next day. That’s why you may crave quick sources of sugar, fat, and carbs.

Nutrition is an integral part of getting those muscles to grow and get them toned. So if your good intentions to eat well seem to disappear as you drink, consider controlling your intake.

It’s All About Balance: Middle of The Road is The Way to Go

The good: Beer is best enjoyed in modest amounts and as part of a balanced diet and fitness routine. When it comes to bodybuilding, it can be good because it’s rich in energy promoting B vitamins and quickly absorbed carbs. It can help you strengthen your social scene and find some acountability buddies. It can be a really nice post-workout treat and won’t necessarily impact your hydration.

The bad: Drinking in excess can lead to severe health problems such as liver damage, obesity, and cancer. When it comes to drinking while bodybuilding, if you end up binging, you could be sabotaging your sleep, nutrition, and good intentions to work out the next day.

The balance: To set yourself up for success, watch your portion size and go slow. Aim to have no more than one drink per hour, so your body has time to metabolize the booze. Stay hydrated by alternating between an alcoholic drink and water.

If you’re friends are harassing you to drink more, either you need to reconsider your friends (half way joking here) or try one of these tricks:

  • You grab the drinks at the bar – this way you can order a nonalcoholic beverage or light beer for yourself

  • Keep your beer bottle and fill it with water – nobody will know the difference

  • Offer to be the designated driver – a safe excuse not to drink more than one

Think of it this way: having a beer after a workout is not detrimental, as long as you have it with some food and water, are able to get a good night’s rest, and are able to stop at just one or two.

Final Thoughts

As a final note, problem drinking may increase your risk of addiction. If you’re not able to control yourself when you drink, or if drinking is negatively impacting your relationships, health, or work, it may be time to seek some extra support. If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol, a good place to start is by telling your primary care physician and refer to help guides.

Cheers to your health!

About The Author

Lisa Booth

Lisa Booth

Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.

Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.

She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.