You started taking creatine a couple of days ago, and now you're having a night out with friends. You're not sure if you can mix alcohol and creatine, but chances are one drink can't hurt, right?
Many of my clients have been in the same situation before, and they wanted to know the effects of mixing alcohol and creatine.
I've spent hours reading all available information and studies on mixing these two substances, so here's what you should know.
Is It Safe to Mix Creatine and Alcohol?
Yes, it’s safe to mix creatine and alcohol, meaning your health won’t be endangered.
What may be compromised is all your hard work and efforts in the gym.
While an alcoholic drink once in a while probably won’t have any severe harmful consequences, drinking alcohol regularly will:
- Reduce your muscle mass
- Slow down recovery time
- Increase your chances of getting hurt
If you want to know what to mix creatine with, check out our article on that topic.
Let’s go into depth on both of these substances and how they affect you separately and when combined.
How We Grow Muscle
Did you know? Lifting weights at the gym damages and breaks down your muscles.
Muscles don’t pump up when you lift weights. Actually, this is when small muscle fibers tear.
When you rest, a process called protein synthesis happens, which is what causes muscle growth.
Protein synthesis is the production of new muscle, and the goal of building muscle is to rebuild more than you damaged during your exercise.
Satellite cells are activated, and muscle growth happens in about a day or two.
Effects of Creatine on the Muscles
Our bodies naturally produce creatine in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Creatine is also commonly taken in through food, such as red meat and fish.
So, if our bodies make creatine, why do some people need creatine supplementation?
Because creatine gives energy to the muscles for quick, explosive activities, such as pumping weights or resistance training.
However, our body has a very limited supply of this energy, usually only for a few seconds of intense activity.
Then, once the energy levels drop, muscles become fatigued.
This is where creatine supplementation comes in. Once the muscles use the stored energy, we need more creatine to power them up and punch out extra reps for better results.
Creatine can build muscle by:
- Drawing water into muscles
- Slowing down muscle breakdown
- Growing muscle fibers
Our bodies usually need 1-3 grams of creatine a day to maintain creatine levels and replace what we lose during working out.
Benefits of Creatine Supplements
Body builders and other athletes take creatine supplements to build up the creatine, help with protein synthesis and stop muscle degeneration.
Because high-intensity training burns creatine faster, taking creatine supplements helps:
- Muscle recovery
- Better stamina
- Have more strength
- Prevent losing muscle mass when aging
- Vegans and vegetarians who don’t get enough creatine through their diet
The health benefits of creatine are still studied, but some of them also include improved brain functions and better immune systems. (1)
Downsides Of Alcohol
Slows down post-exercise muscle synthesis
I’ve mentioned that the post-exercise or rest period is the one that’s crucial for muscle development, and this is the period with which alcohol interferes.
It slows down or even stops muscle building.
Slows down calcium
Studies also show that alcohol slows down the movement of calcium into muscles, which leads to muscle contraction.
Alters nutrient movement and metabolism
During exercise, the body needs fuel which it can get from added nutrition.
Another negative side to alcohol intake is that alcohol reduces the ability of the body to get nutrients such as protein and amino acids. If the body doesn’t get these nutrients, muscles:
- Are more injury-prone
- React negatively to exercise
- Need more time to recover after working out
What’s more, because alcohol changes the way nutrients are metabolized, it slows down post-workout recovery, and it can even be bad for the bones. (2)
How Does Alcohol Counteract Creatine
Alcohol Hinders Protein Synthesis
A combination of creatine and alcohol isn’t necessarily damaging to the general body health but is detrimental to the muscles. Here’s why.
Creatine helps us exercise harder, but it also means that muscle recovery is crucial when taking a creatine supplement because protein synthesis helps grow muscle fibers.
On the other hand, drinking alcohol hinders protein synthesis, so creatine and alcohol combination cancels out all the positive things creatine does for the muscle cells.
Alcohol Steals Water From Muscles
Alcohol is a diuretic — it takes water from the tissue. This leads to:
It also causes problems for creatine because creatine needs a large amount of water to help the process of muscle development.
The bottom line is: if there’s isn’t enough water, you’re not getting the max benefit of your creatine supplement.
What’s more, drinking alcohol can lead to body issues, such as liver and kidney disease — organs that make and use creatine.
Are There Benefits to Consuming Alcohol?
For a long time, there’s been a belief in the fitness community that even one glass of wine will eat your muscles.
The truth is: it’s all about the amount of alcohol you ingest. If you get wasted 3 or 4 times a week, then yes, alcohol will eat away your muscles.
Having a glass or two of dry red wine once a week is likely to have more benefits than side effects.
Here’s what moderate alcohol consumption can do for you:
- Lower fatty acids
- Give you better blood sugar levels control
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Help flush excess water
- Help remove the toxins from the body
There are even studies that show that people who have moderate amounts of alcohol live longer and have fewer health problems than people who avoid it altogether.
I’ve established how beneficial alcohol can be, but there’s one thing that is problematic with alcohol consumption — some people aren’t able to control the amount they drink.
How Often Can You Drink Alcohol?
Media websites and researches I’ve checked agree that the best option is to avoid alcohol altogether or have a drink once a week.
Anything over this amount will bring you back to square one in terms of the muscle tissue development process.
How To Minimize the Negative Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Creatine
Here’s what you can do to counteract the negative alcohol effects, and make sure your alcohol and creatine combination doesn’t have side effects:
- Stay hydrated - If you know you’re going out tonight, drink at least 4 liters of water throughout the day.
- Drink water - Drink water first thing in the morning. If you’re consuming alcohol later in the day, have some water to renew the body water supply after a couple of shots.
- Eat the right food - Fatty, protein-rich snacks such as BBQ chicken, steak, and beef help annul the worst effects of alcohol.
- Time your creatine intake - It’s best to take creatine in the morning.
- Don’t over imbibe - If you drink too much, you’ll lose all health benefits and risk getting dehydrated when creatine levels are increased.
Creatine and Alcohol: The Verdict
Taken in excess, both alcohol and creatine can pose a health risk.
Creatine is beneficial for muscle building, and it can give you an energy boost for high-intensity training.
On the other hand, as I've found in my research, alcohol has opposite effects on muscles, and it will limit the beneficial effect of creatine. In extreme cases, when there’s not enough water to counteract it, alcohol can even lead to negative muscle growth.
There is some business interest in product development for a supplement that does the same thing as creatine and is safe to combine with alcohol without severe consequences. But, until it’s here and the privacy terms are lifted, a good rule of thumb is to avoid drinking on days when you exercise.
If you have experience mixing alcohol and creatine, let me know the results in the comments below.