How Drinking, Drugs and Smoking Affect Your Gym 'Gains'

Does a night on the sesh limit muscle growth?
January 13, 2020, 12:14pm
two women child's pose

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

Go to literally any deep house rave, from Ilford to Ibiza, and you will find a hundreds of hench men with Gucci bumbags and bad chest tattoos.

I don't want to think about these guys and their cesspit WhatsApp groups any more than you do, but they do always get me thinking about one thing specifically. Chances are these guys are banging MDMA, coke and K on a fairly regular basis, plus probably drinking and smoking, yet they all still look like Love Island contestants, and not like me, Grant Mitchell if he dressed like he was in Odd Future.


So… how exactly are they managing that? Cocaine and MDMA are vasoconstrictors – surely they wreak havoc on muscle growth, i.e. the "gains" that every gym-goer worth their weight in vegan bulking powders goes to the gym for?

Does Taking Drugs Affect Muscle Growth?

"I don't think it would directly, in moderation,'" says personal trainer and ex-MMA fighter Max Cotton. "Indirectly, it will affect your ability to train hard, as well as affecting your sleep. Good sleep is one of the biggest factors in building muscle. I know some ripped up, swole dudes who are very partial to MD and cocaine."

"If a person is interested in their health but still wants to use stimulants from time to time, then amphetamine and MDMA are less damaging, but still far from risk free," adds Guy Jones, senior scientist at drug testing agency The Loop. "The other problem with cocaine is it's a big driver of higher alcohol consumption – and as if adding another toxin wasn't bad enough, the two interact to further increase toxicity."

Okay, round one goes to the guy in the pristine Huaraches: seems like you can take Class As and remain buff, even though it's clearly not great for your health. But what about something less "hard", like alcohol?

legs with vodka

Photo: Emily Bowler

Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Muscle Growth?

"Alcohol is one of the 'hardest' drugs there is!" says Guy. "Consumption isn't just about frequency, but also about intensity. A drink or two on the odd night is going to have a limited impact, but nine pints on a Friday and Saturday is guaranteed to have a significant negative impact."

"Alcohol can inhibit testosterone production and also inhibits recovery," adds Max. "Muscle growth is effectively how well you can recover from the stress on the muscle tissue caused by the workout, so if you go straight from the gym to the sesh, it's not ideal."


Now we're getting somewhere. So: hard drugs don't necessarily mess with your gains, but pints will. What about smoking tobacco and weed? Does that inhabit muscle growth, as well as damaging your lungs?

Does Smoking Affect Muscle Growth?

"For cigarettes, I don't think it would make much difference either way for a hypertrophy [muscle building] goal," says Max. "In the case of weed, the opposite is probably true in some cases. A bodybuilder might relax by getting high instead of getting drunk, meaning they'll recover better."

"The fact is that breathing in smoke of any variety is going to impact a person's health and fitness negatively, even if they still manage to achieve great things," counters Guy, when I ask him about the effects of smoking on fitness specifically. "Tobacco is particularly insidious because of the highly carcinogenic nitrosamines that are produced when it is combusted."

So, for those of you who want to get "healthy" in 2020 without giving up any of the stuff you love consuming on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, some good news and some bad news. If you already abstain from all the stuff your parents told you to abstain from, and you think that's enough to get yourself an Instabody, don't get too excited: anyone looking ripped will be paying an incredible amount of attention to their diet, as well as exercising at least five times a week.

"The health benefits of regular moderate exercise are absolutely astonishing," says Guy. "If it was possible to pop a pill that had the same health benefits as exercise, people would pay thousands for it."