When the warm weather hits it seems so too does the preprogrammed desire for males (and females for that matter) to grab some sort of alcoholic beverage to quench the thirst. “There’s nothing like a cold beer on a warm Summer day” is what you’ll hear from most guys as they knock back another frosty.
But what is this doing to your muscle building and fat loss efforts? Is it really preventing you from having a six pack? Well…you know the kind I mean. The one you can’t buy at the convenience store!
I figured that I get this question so often that it was worth my honest, face the facts answer. But before we get started, put down the bottles. For the safety of the author here, I don’t want you to get any ideas about throwing them at me if you don’t like what you read!
What Are Your Goals?
Ok. Let’s break the lid open on this hot topic of alcohol and working out and find out if they really can go together like gin and tonic…or should be viewed more like oil and water. I think any fair discussion of this should really start with first determining what your goals are…because really, that’s going to determine almost everything.
If you want to develop the body of a strong man competitor, night club bouncer, or person that is affectionately known as “tank” or “big man” then mixing in some daily alcohol consumption is not going to destroy the “look” you’re going for. It can still limit the amount of muscle you can build (and I’ll explain that later) but it’s not going to really matter that you don’t have a six pack…since you’re already identified by that body type, that you’re more in love with the aluminum version instead of the abs of steel.
If on the other hand, like a lot of guys…you are hoping to not only put on muscle but also get ripped and look like you could be on the cover of a magazine (or at least adored by the ladies as if you WERE on the cover of a fitness magazine!), then all bets are off. Even just those “few” beers or drinks at the weekly Summer picnic, or night out with the boys, etc will eventually add up to quickly make any progress you were making in your ab visibility disappear like a flea in a kennel!
There simply isn’t much room for error when getting ripped is your goal. Wait…let me rephrase that. Getting ripped with regularity will definitely NOT help you to get a ripped body! Got it now? Good. But why you ask?
Alcohol and Calories
The answer is really based in how the alcohol does it’s thing that really makes it more than just a calorie crusher. But lets start there. The fact that alcohol (be it beer, wine, mixed drinks etc) are all ingestible as liquid calories make them incredibly overlooked as potential belly busters. We mostly associate our degree of being overweight by the amount of food that we eat.
Well, your alcohol is food…just pureed if you will! A mix of hops, malt, barley, etc all mashed up into this nice little convenient mixture that goes down oh so easy! BUT…calories are still calories and if you have enough of them, your belly is going to show it.
The second factor is that, lets face it….most of the time when you’re reaching for the suds you’re almost never eating healthy at the same time. French fries, chips, dips, nuts, pizza, and burgers (to name just a few) are the likely compliment to your “meal” of beer! These are obviously not muscle flexing friendly choices and it goes without too much more explanation that a steady habit of this one-two combo won’t be etching in your abs any time soon.
How Alcohol Affects Your Muscles
The third factor is actually a physiological one…but THE biggest problem with alcohol when you’re trying to either get clearly defined muscle (or even build muscle at all!) and it has to do with the fact that alcohol is a dehydrator. As a diuretic, it will actually dehydrate your muscles faster than a raisin in the Sahara Desert!
The ironic part of it all is….the more you drink, the thirstier you become so you drink more and the vicious cycle continues! As many of you who drink far too little water (remember I always say at least half of your bodyweight in ounces a day!) could attest, a dehydrated muscle is a small muscle! Think of that raisin. If it only had water it’d be a grape for crying out loud. They can fit a whole bunch of raisins in a box, but could probably only cram 2-3 grapes in the same box if lucky!
It goes even deeper. Besides the fact that the muscle itself is smaller when dehydrated, it’s also less active. Just as you would feel sluggish and ready to pass out without water, so to would your muscles. They won’t fire correctly (causing your workouts to be nonproductive) they won’t burn fat efficiently (causing you to start slowly storing more and more fat as a result) and they won’t grow in the long run (like the plant that doesn’t get the sun in the back corner of the garden).
So What Are Your Options?
That is one strong three pronged punch to your gut…that in the long run is going to ensure that you never get rid of yours! So what are your options if you decide that your goals lie somewhere in the middle of getting the perfect six pack or helping your buddies drink one? Well, in this case I would suggest that you identify how you hold your liquor. No I’m not talking about the way you put it in your hand.
I mean, what type of drinker are you? If you have a tendency to drink lots of beer at one time, then it might be wiser to stick to a microbrew or thicker beer. Lite beers (while having fewer calories) are often drank in much higher quantities and therefore the “lite” becomes a nonfactor after the 5th beer! On the other hand, a thick microbrew or darker beer might be filling at 1-2 beers and therefore result in a better outcome in the long run.
Finally, if mixed drinks are your thing….just remember to switch in a diet version of your soda to save your six pack aspirations considerably! Two rum and diets can have just slightly more calories than are in one regular beer. So choose accordingly!
Either way, the real truth is that you have to define what is most important to you. If you truly want to get the six pack abs that you’ve dreamed about for a long time, then you simply have to generally refrain from certain indulgences….and alcohol is one of them. I’m not saying that’s easy, but then again if it was, everybody would have them. Decide what drives you and then make a plan that will help you get to that goal. Whatever it is, when you reach it, it will be worth the work it took to get there.
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Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.