Many adults indulge in at least one alcoholic beverage for various reasons. Whether beer or hard cider or wine or liquor or cocktails, whether socially or frequently, there are as many choices as drinkers. There is a lot of debate about the effects of drinking alcohol.[i] For example, based on many studies, there are physicians who now claim that there are positive benefits to having an occasional or daily glass of wine.[ii] But they also say that any benefits come when you drink in small to moderate quantities.[iii] A new study claims that exercise can even undo some of the damage done by alcohol, within limits.[iv] No matter what side the studies come down on, they all conclude that what matters in how alcohol affects your health is what you drink and how much of it. Fourteen drinks can be 1) one per day for two weeks, or 2) seven drinks on Saturday and seven on Sunday of the same weekend. Big difference in effects on the body.
Not surprisingly, many people have misinterpreted the studies and understood the recommendations to mean that vodka, rum, cognac and other types of alcoholic beverages provide similar benefits to wine. “On doctors’ orders!” has become the perfect excuse to overindulge, especially during the holidays.
Drinking too heavily or too often, - overindulgence – is one thing and causes its own problems. But, managing your consumption of alcohol is especially important when the individual’s weight-loss goals are being compromised. If we have a better understanding of how alcohol inhibits progress in shedding pounds, we can take informed action in dealing with – and getting rid of – frustration that comes with being stuck at a certain number for too long.
The Math of drinking or, Count your calories!
The buzz is what people seek, but it’s the calories that will do you in. Knowing the caloric value of alcohol is critical. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the U.S. finds that a 12-ounce can of beer contains 100 calories.[v] [vi] On the other hand, 1.5 ounces of whisky, rum, tequila, and other stronger drinks carry roughly 150 calories. Let’s do the math. One shot contains approximately (1) liquid ounce. On a typical evening of drinking, someone who’s an enthusiastic drinker may consume 6-7 shots of alcohol. That is easily 600-700 alcoholic calories consumed from shots alone in one evening. Assuming that you have eaten a decent meal before imbibing alcohol, and will need to eat again afterwards, chances are, you have now surpassed your allotted caloric intake for the day.
Not all calories are the same. Here is some information that many fitness enthusiasts may not be aware of:
In short, alcohol calories are what nutritionists call excess or empty calories. They take up space in your daily caloric intake, but you get nothing back in return, and they may even take your hard-earned results away.
What happens to your body when you drink alcohol?
Let us explore the metabolism of alcohol, or how the substance breaks down in our bodies.
When you consume an alcoholic beverage, about 20-25% of the alcohol is absorbed in your bloodstream immediately. The rest travels to your small intestine and makes its way into your bloodstream. From there, it heads toward your liver for metabolism.
The liver is where the most important action takes place. When you drink alcohol, you give the liver extra work to do. A healthy body flushes out roughly 1 oz of alcohol per hour. If you consume more than this amount of alcohol, saturation will occur.
Calories are not your biggest problem though. The liver is also the main site where fat is broken down. Until the liver has time to process and remove the alcohol in your system, the body’s fat-burning capacity also ceases. Because alcohol has no nutritional value, the body cannot store it. And since the body recognizes alcohol as a toxin, the liver prioritizes the breakdown of alcoholic substances before other nutrients. After you drink, your body’s primary goal is to get rid of this toxin as soon and as efficiently as possible.
This fact is fundamental to weight loss and is a key reason why the struggle to lose weight can appear almost never-ending and desperate at times. Let me say it again: the more alcohol you drink, the longer the body takes to remove the alcohol, and the longer your body takes to get back to your priority – fat burning. The very thing that you want to speed up during and after your workout – fat burning – actually shuts down when you drink alcohol.
And that’s not all, alcohol increases one’s appetite as well as suppresses testosterone levels. While many people drink because of its effect as a stimulant, it is widely recognized that alcohol also acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. As a depressant, alcohol actually makes us eat more. The more foods we consume in the presence of alcohol in our body, the more likely those foods become stored as fat. This fat will not be metabolized until our bodies have disposed of the toxicity entirely. In other words, drinking alcohol cancel out the benefits of the healthy food you ate to “soak up” the drinks or as part of your regular diet.
Alcohol and sex do not mix very well. Drinking might embolden some men (stimulant), but it also has a negative effect on sexual performance. Alcohol subdues and impedes levels of testosterone production as well as impairs judgment, both of which lead to problems for both men and women.
If you are working on building a healthier, fitter body, drinking alcohol works against that.[vii] Consumption of alcohol slows down exercise capability, muscle strength; muscle development and can cause dehydration.[viii] It has been shown, that alcohol consumption has had negative effects on recovery. Studies show that there is significant increase in the amount of healing time of muscular injury or strain that comes with intensive workouts. Experiencing a prolonged DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) effect, can be a message from your body that you should leave the alcohol alone.
Finally, be reminded that alcohol is a drug as defined by the World health organization (WHO). It is harmful to our vital digestive organs and physically wears them out. The strain that alcohol consumption puts on the body is under-recognized. Drinking alcohol prevents the body’s digestive system from functioning at its best, which in turn aids in weakening the immune system and increases the likelihood for liver diseases. Alcohol does not just expose us to avoidable health risks. As described earlier, drinking it also suppresses weight loss because of its ability to make us consume and store significantly more calories than normal.
Drinking alcohol, especially with friends after a hard workout, is very tempting and a lot of fun. However, we should also remember that alcohol is a toxin to the body. It possesses the ability to destroy vital digestive organs, inhibit testosterone production in men, and compromise muscular recovery and development.
If you are on a special diet to accompany your fitness routine, we recommend that you stay away from alcoholic beverages, especially if your goal is to lose weight. Given what you just learned about the substance and its ability to prevent you from achieving your full potential, we hope you will consider this information. Make informed choices and seek out nonalcoholic alternatives. You will not regret it. Cheers to good health and wellness!
[i] Celia Vimont, 2013 “Should Doctors Recommend Alcohol for Patients’ Health? Experts Debate.” December 13, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/should-doctors-recommend-alcohol-for-patients-health-experts-debate/.
[ii] Mayo Clinic Staff 2016. “Alcohol: If you Drink, Keep It Moderate”, August 30. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551
[iii] Stanton Peele 2014. “the Truth We Won’t Admit: Drinking is Healthy” Pacific Standard, August 12. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/the-truth-we-won-t-admit-drinking-is-healthy-4d3c7b12fa9a - .y39916hzb
[iv]Susan Scutti 2016. “Exercise can cancel out booze, says study”, CNN Health, September 8. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/07/health/exercise-alcohol-and-death-risk/
vi] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2016 “What’s a Standard Drink” National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Retrieved from https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/What-counts-as-a-drink/Whats-A-Standard-Drink.aspx.
[vii] Tim Gagne 2014 “How Does Alcohol Affect Your Athletic Performance?” September 23. Retrieved from http://Baystatecrossfit.Com/How-Does-Alcohol-Affect-Your-Athletic-Performance/
[viii] Matthew Barnes 2014. “Alcohol: Impact on Sports Performance and Recovery in Male Athletes” Sports Medicine July, Volume 44, Issue 7, pp 909–919. Retrieved from: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-014-0192-8
I have been a fitness, health and wellness trainer for the past six years. My expertise in this area has been from working directly in Public Safety and Healthcare for the better part of 20 years. The exposure received from my direct interaction with healthcare and Public Safety has honed and fueled my drive and passion for changing unhealthy life styles, coaching, and promoting wellness. The positive changes enjoyed by my clients since my involvement in personal training is testament to my diligence and commitment to the cause.
CPT, EMT-P, Bsc, MBA