Jun 04, 2013 12:13 AM GMT
By Michelle Hamilton
Published March 11, 2013
A new study that looked at the potent combination of alcohol and testosterone—on muscle recovery, not on frequency of bar-room brawls—found that drinking increased the hormone levels in men after they’d hit the weight room.
The researchers, who published their finding in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, are unsure if the rise in testosterone is desirable; it depends on the cause of the increase, which the study did not test.
Heavy weight training naturally increases “free testosterone,” or how much of the hormone is circulating in the blood and available for use. Free testosterone stimulates protein use by the muscles after exercise, helping to build muscle strength and mass. Testosterone also helps increase bone density.
Because alcohol is known to lower total testosterone levels (free testosterone plus those “bound” to proteins), the researches expected that it would inhibit hormone production post-exercise and harm the body's recovery process. They had eight men ages 18 to 34 perform six sets of 10 repetitions of weighted squats, then immediately consume a placebo or roughly five drinks (Everclear combined with an undisclosed liquid). Factors that might influence intoxication levels, such as hydration and the ratio of alcohol amount and body weight, were controlled.
They found that the levels of total and free testosterone increased for the both the alcohol and control group during the 90 minutes following exercise. But rather than return to pre-exercise amounts, the testosterone levels in the men who drank alcohol remained elevated long after exercise, for up to five hours.
It’s unclear if the higher levels were the result of an increase in testosterone, which would be beneficial to recovery, or because alcohol inhibited the muscles from using the hormone, which would be bad.
The results may be linked to the amount of alcohol consumed (.84 - 1 kilogram per kilogram of lean body mass); more may be necessary to lower testosterone levels, the study says. Though five drinks is not insubstantial, the researchers note that the study amount was less than some people often drink.
The researchers stress that their finding shouldn’t be an excuse to pound back shots after working out. Previous studies suggest that alcohol interferes with muscle recovery, and regularly drinking over time can damage muscle tissue.
The findings related to beer and running, however, are less conclusive.