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Diet 911: The Drinking Man’s Dilemma

You like a brew but you know alcohol slows muscle growth. What can you do? Read on to find out.

Dear M&F,

I’m serious about getting bigger, but I like to go out and have a few drinks with my friends every week. Is that going to hurt my gains? How can I mitigate the damage?

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—Jasper T., Lubbock, TX

There’s no way around the fact that alcohol slows muscle growth. That said, there are options for minimizing the effects of your social life.

First, supplement with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). One of the stresses that alcohol places on your liver is antioxidant depletion. Metabolizing alcohol uses up glutathione, an amino acid that serves as one of the body’s strongest free-radical fighters. Taking 500–600 milligrams of NAC daily can help replenish antioxidants while clearing out toxic metabolites that are generated by the liver’s breakdown of alcohol.

Another supplement to try is leucine. Alcohol blocks muscle building at the genetic level by inhibiting the action of leucine, the most anabolic of the branched-chain amino acids. Taking a dose the day after drinking can help override this inhibition.

Finally, try to time your drinking. Research from Penn State shows that alcohol decreases protein synthesis by 15% to 20% after 24 hours, but not sooner.

It may sound crazy, but having a few drinks on Friday night after training is better than having them on Saturday night (when your body is recovering).

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