August 1, 2001
1- Featured Article:
Do creatine and alcohol mix?
This Month’s Featured Article:
Do creatine and alcohol mix?
Although no published studies have specifically examined the effects of alcohol on the effectiveness of creatine, alcohol does have known effects on muscle metabolism and survival. These indirect consequences of alcohol might, in turn, influence how well we respond to creatine supplementation.
Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers: Anaerobic
Not all muscles are the same. Muscle fibers can be loosely distinguished on whether they mediate fast or slow movements. Fast muscle fibers, also known as Anaerobic, do not require oxygen to work. Thusly, anaerobic muscle fibers are fast, since they are not limited by oxygen availability. On the other hand, they tire rapidly. Therefore, fast muscle fibers are fast to respond and fast to fatigue. Fast (Anaerobic) muscle fibers are called into play when we undertake explosive movements. Lifting heavy weights and sprinting are examples of exercises recruiting fast muscle fibers. Did you know that professional sprinters often run the 100-meter race on a single breath? This is because breathing isn’t mandatory while using anaerobic muscle fibers! However, because anaerobic fibers also fatigue rapidly, these activities can only be maintained briefly, approximately 10 seconds. In order to recuperate, however, fast muscle fibers do require oxygen. This is why we breathe harder following all out sprints.
Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers: Aerobic
Slow muscle fibers, on the other hand, are Aerobic. Aerobic simply means that slow muscle fibers require oxygen to generate force. As a consequence of their oxygen-dependency, these muscle fibers generate force more slowly. In other words, oxygen availability limits how rapidly slow muscle fibers respond. Therefore, slow muscle fibers provide lower forces, but last much longer. Activities calling into play slow muscle fibers require oxygen, i.e. breathing. Marathon runners rely heavily on slow muscle fibers. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to run a marathon while holding your breath. To summarize, the reason we can only sprint briefly, while we can walk for hours, is that these activities call into action different types of muscle fibers. Sprinting calls into play fast (anaerobic) muscle fibers. Fast muscle fibers generate brief, explosive forces. On the other hand, slow (aerobic) muscle fibers are used for movements lasting more than a few seconds. The amount of force generated by slow muscle fiber is much less and can only be maintained for as long as our breathing allows.
Creatine and Fast Muscle Fibers
Just as not all muscles are the same, creatine doesn’t influence all muscle types in the same manner. Creatine preferentially increases the work output of fast muscle fibers. Recall that fast muscle fiber do not require oxygen to generate force. Because of creatine’s preference for fast muscle we would notice an increase in sprint performance, while our jogging performance would go mostly unchanged. In other words, we are actually feeding fast muscle fibers by supplementing with creatine!
Protein Synthesis and Muscle Growth
It is natural that some muscle damage occurs during exercise. In fact, this exercise-induced muscle damage is essential for subsequent muscle growth. Simply speaking, we literally breakdown our muscles during exercise and rebuild them during recovery. Whether our muscle mass increases depends on which of these two processes predominates. For example, if muscle breakdown exceeds muscle regrowth, then we lose muscle mass. Protein synthesis, or the production of new muscle proteins, is an essential part of this rebuilding process following exercise.
Alcohol and Muscle Growth
Importantly for today’s discussion, it appears that short-term alcohol use inhibits muscular protein synthesis. In fact, this effect is particularly pronounced in fast muscle fibers, especially after prolonged alcohol use. The scenario would be detrimental for any athlete trying to gain muscle mass and strength through training. After all, isn’t the goal of training to increase muscle protein synthesis? The problem is that creatine allows us to work harder, which is generally a good thing. However, this would also mean that muscle recovery is more critical while supplementing with creatine. Now, as alcohol consumption inhibits protein synthesis, a potentially fruitless situation may arise by mixing the two. That is, creatine and alcohol. Finally, there is also some indication that creatine also stimulates protein synthesis. This effect may underlie part of creatine’s benefit. If this is so, then alcohol consumption would offset this benefit of creatine as well. Note: Keep in mind these important points:
- Alcohol inhibits protein synthesis in fast muscle fibers.
- Protein synthesis is essential for muscle growth and development.
- Protein synthesis is important for muscle recovery.
- Creatine increases the work output of fast muscle fibers.
- Thus, fast muscle recovery is more critical during supplementation.
- Creatine may increase protein synthesis as part of its benefit.
- Alcohol may be particularly damaging during creatine supplementation.
Alcohol and Anabolic Hormones
Anabolic means to promote growth. Alcohol adversely influences the anabolic properties of two of our principal growth promoting hormones, Insulin and Growth Hormone. Furthermore, most of the anabolic effects initiated by Growth Hormone are mediated by Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1). These hormones are essential for inducing muscle protein synthesis after exercise and are also thought to interact with creatine.
Alcohol causes insulin-resistance as well as hinders the release of Growth Hormone from the brain. Chronic alcohol consumption also reduces our IGF-1 levels. These combined effects will slow muscle development and mitigate our response to creatine. Finally, Growth Hormone secretion is most important during puberty, when we are growing most rapidly. Anything that interferes with this normal surge in Growth Hormone could have serious developmental consequences. Therefore, adolescent athletes are strongly discouraged from consuming alcohol.
The interaction of insulin on creatine absorption by skeletal muscle will be the topic of a future newsletter. The interplay of creatine and Growth Hormone was the topic of a previous issue of the Creatine Newsletter.
Go here for more information about Growth Hormone and IGF-1.
Although possibly having no direct effects on creatine energy production per se, alcohol creates a biochemical environment that could undermine with the benefits afforded by creatine. Alcohol decreases muscle protein synthesis, causes insulin-resistance and interferes with the release of Growth Hormone (and, hence, IGF-1) following exercise. All of which would mitigate creatine’s effect.
Don’t misconstrue my message. This is not a crusade against alcohol consumption. In fact, an occasional glass of red wine has been shown to possess healthful benefits – nothing beats a good Bordeaux. However, if you’re serious about making gains in strength and mass, then maybe you should abstain from alcohol, especially immediately before bed and after exercise. This precaution is especially important if you are below 20 years of age, when Growth Hormone release is most necessary for normal growth and development. Moderation is always the best policy.
Preedy VR, Patel VB, Reilly ME, Richardson PJ, Falkous G, Mantle D. (August 1999) Oxidants, antioxidants and alcohol: implications for skeletal and cardiac muscle. Frontiers in Bioscience Volume 1:4: pages e58-e66
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