The functional and molecular effects of problematic alcohol consumption on skeletal muscle: a focus on athletic performance

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2022 Mar 4;48(2):133-147. doi: 10.1080/00952990.2022.2041025. Epub 2022 Apr 7.


Background: Chronic alcohol misuse is associated with alcoholic myopathy, characterized by skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy. Moreover, there is evidence that sports-related people seem to exhibit a greater prevalence of problematic alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking (BD), which might not cause alcoholic myopathy but can negatively impact muscle function and amateur and professional athletic performance.Objective: To review the literature concerning the effects of alcohol consumption on skeletal muscle function and structure that can affect muscle performance.Methodology: We examined the currently available literature (PubMed, Google Scholars) to develop a narrative review summarizing the knowledge about the effects of alcohol on skeletal muscle function and exercise performance, obtained from studies in human beings and animal models for problematic alcohol consumption.Results: Exercise- and sport-based studies indicate that alcohol consumption can negatively affect muscle recovery after vigorous exercise, especially in men, while women seem less affected. Clinical studies and pre-clinical laboratory research have led to the knowledge of some of the mechanisms involved in alcohol-related muscle dysfunction, including an imbalance between anabolic and catabolic pathways, reduced regeneration, increased inflammation and fibrosis, and deficiencies in energetic balance and mitochondrial function. These pathological features can appear not only under chronic alcohol misuse but also in other alcohol consumption patterns.Conclusions: Most laboratory-based studies use chronic or acute alcohol exposure, while episodic BD, the most common drinking pattern in amateur and professional athletes, is underrepresented. Nevertheless, alcohol consumption negatively affects skeletal muscle health through different mechanisms, which collectively might contribute to reduced sports performance.

Keywords: Alcohol; alcoholic myopathy; binge drinking; muscle pathology; muscle performance; problematic alcohol consumption.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism
  • Alcoholism* / epidemiology
  • Animals
  • Athletic Performance* / physiology
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscular Diseases* / metabolism
  • Muscular Diseases* / pathology


  • Ethanol