Lose The Booze: The Effects of Alcohol on Weight Loss

This week mark’s Saint Patrick’s Day, a holiday known for its early-morning boozing and shenanigans. Although many festivities surrounding the holiday may find themselves canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for many it’s just another occasion to indulge their party-side.

Other such occasions occur more frequently, such as tailgates, sporting events, or happy hour. Some people don’t feel inclined toward a party lifestyle, but may still consume alcohol on a regular basis to help unwind from stressful weeks, screaming children, or horrible bosses.

Alcohol can help you unwind, help you have a good time, and make food taste really, really good. It should come as no surprise then that alcohol consumption, especially consuming alcohol regularly and in large quantities, can work directly against your weight loss goals.

There are some pretty obvious reasons why alcohol can ruin a good fitness plan:

You will drink extra calories.

There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. So which of these categories does alcohol fall into?

Alcohol, in its purest form, is actually its own category.  One gram of both carbs and protein contains four calories. One gram of fats contain nine calories—significantly more. One gram of alcohol contains about seven calories, and once you add in the other ingredients used to make beer or mixed drinks your calorie consumption begins to stack up quickly. A typical shot of liquor contains about 70-90 calories, 12oz of beer can contain anywhere from 100-300 calories, and some mixed drinks can contain upwards of 500+ calories for just a single drink!

You will eat extra calories.

You’re likely familiar with the fact that alcohol consumption blunts your inhibitions. Alcohol can also make food taste really, really good. The combination can lead you to make poor food choices, both in the types of food you choose (high fat/sugar) and in the amount that you consume. Who hasn’t drunkenly consumed an exorbitant amount of pizza?

While these may be the obvious factors at play, there are other, less obvious ways in which alcohol consumption can negatively affect your fitness plan. Let’s dig a little deeper to see why you may want to begin nominating yourself to be the “Designated Driver.”

Alcohol consumption causes an acute negative response to your body’s fat-burning mechanisms. [1]

What does this mean exactly? Alcohol negatively impacts your metabolism. Alcohol is a toxin, and as a result, your liver works overtime trying to neutralize it. The byproducts that are released as part of this detoxifying process will blunt your body’s ability to burn fat. What does this mean for the extra calories you’re consuming? It means the majority of these calories, instead of being used for energy, are going to be stored as body-fat.

Heavy alcohol consumption can affect workout performance for days afterward. [2]

With heavy drinking, it can take the body as much as 48 hours to eliminate the toxins from your body. With your now-blunted metabolism, your muscles will receive less glucose to be used as energy. This means you will produce less force (have less strength), and reach fatigue faster during your workouts. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration (a contributing factor for those nasty hangovers you may have experienced). Even mild dehydration is known to negatively affect exercise performance. [3]

Alcohol consumption can negatively impact the muscle-building process.

Heavy drinking can affect your ability to build muscle in two distinct ways. The first is your body’s ability to synthesize protein. [2] Protein synthesis is the primary way that we generate new muscle. When you consume large amounts of alcohol, the rate of protein synthesis is decreased.

Less protein synthesis = less muscle.

Secondly, the more alcohol you consume, the more your body will decrease testosterone levels. [4] Testosterone is one of the body’s sex hormones responsible for many things, including building lean tissue. When testosterone levels decrease, so does your ability to build muscle.

While there are many negative effects of drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly, this doesn’t necessarily mean I am advocating that you abstain from all alcohol consumption. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption, defined as 1-2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women, has been shown to be beneficial to us in some ways.

Moderate alcohol consumption can boost insulin sensitivity.

We can think of the hormone insulin as the key that unlocks the cells in our body, to allow the nutrients from food to enter. If we develop insulin insensitivity we are essentially changing the locks to our cells. The keys we had no longer work. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to increase our sensitivity to insulin, ensuring our locks don’t change. [5]

Moderate alcohol consumption could help prevent disease.

Some studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can decrease your chances of developing certain chronic diseases and can modestly boost your immune system. [6,7]

Limiting alcohol consumption is a good idea for a healthy body and a successful fitness program. Substituting your usual cocktail for water at your next party (assuming you have 2-4 drinks) can save you between 300-600 calories! That can make a big difference to your weight-loss progress. However, moderate consumption of alcohol is probably going to be OK (from both a health and fitness perspective), given that you adjust your calorie intake accordingly.

Still planning to enjoy a drink or two on the weekends?

The last thing you want is to wake up and waste a day of your weekend recovering from a hangover. Fortunately, I’ve created the perfect hangover prevention plan for you. Wake up like a champ and stop wasting your Sundays recovering.

Get the Ultimate Hangover Prevention Plan by clicking here.

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