Beer degrades muscle… or not

4 mins read

File this one under Rants.

Body builderI came across an article with a provocative headline: Body builder alert: beer degrades muscles. “Oh no!” I thought. “My favorite libation could be causing me to turn into a flabby old man prematurely.” No doubt this is exactly what the author wanted me to think when I read the headline. As it turns out, this bit of alarmist copywriting is deceptive at best.

Before I continue, I should point out that this article appears on the website of a small New York college and was written, I assume, by a student. Still, it is out there on the Internet for the whole world to see and many will never read enough of the 3 page article to realize that the headline is misleading. I’m not sure what the motivation was for writing this article, and I’m not saying it was written to deliberately deceive, but it is misleading in it’s simplistic take on the effects of drinking and health.

The problem with the article is, while not patently false, it is grossly misleading. First of all, beer is singled out as a cause of muscle degradation when in fact, the culprit is alcohol. Beer contains alcohol, so does drinking a beer cause you to lose muscle mass? No. “Chronic alcoholism has also been shown to cause serious degradation of muscle cells.” There is no citation given for this statement, or any of the other claims made in the article, but I have no reason to doubt it. A quick search of Google Scholar turns up plenty of supporting studies. So the problem is not so much alcohol or beer consumption but excessive consumption.

What exactly is excessive consumption? That depends on who you ask. It seems that an average of 2 drinks a day for men and 1 for women is generally accepted as “moderate” consumption. But a universally accepted definition of “excessive” does not seem to exist. There are many factors which determine how much alcohol your body can handle including weight, age, gender, and genetics so it’s not one size fits all.

I am not advocating excessive beer consumption. I am not disputing that excessive alcohol consumption can cause health problems either. Excessive consumption of food has detrimental effects on your health but that doesn’t mean that you should stop eating. I believe that in all things, moderation is key. If you occasionally get a little exuberant in your enjoyment of beer, I doubt that is going to have serious health consequences, whether you are a body builder or not. If your exuberance is a daily occurrence, that’s a different matter.

I have no medical training so take my opinion for what it is. As a student of the School of Common Sense, however, it irks me when something as wondrous as beer is villainized through apparent sophistry. Thank you for letting me rant. I think I’ll go do some push-ups and have a beer.

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