Alcohol and Weight Loss

What is the relationship between alcohol and weight loss?  Should you consume alcohol when you are trying to lose weight?  If you do, what impact does it have on your body?   What is alcohol's impact on your body's ability to burn fat?

We will cover all this and more on this page.  Scroll down to gain a better understanding of alcohol and weight loss.

Alcohol and Weight Loss - The Facts

If you are trying to improve your body's strength and fitness, drinking alcohol can sabotage your gains.  Generally speaking, a drink here and there is not significantly harmful.  Still, there are some real effects that alcohol has on your weight loss efforts.  The truth is, when it comes to drinking alcohol and your weight loss, less is more.

We have to realize that there is a reason why it's called a "beer belly."  The reason, simply put, is that consuming alcohol (which your body does not like) causes your body to target the alcohol in terms of getting it metabolized out of the body as quickly as possible.  This replaces the normal digestive and processing behaviors of breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates for muscle growth and fuel.  Let's say you drink enough that it takes 8 hours to get the alcohol out of your system.  That is 8 hours that fat and carbohydrates have not been properly metabolized in your body.  The beer belly grows!

Behaviorally, there is a reality that I can attest to which was also bared out by a 1998 study on the topic. 

The study(1) examined the effect of combining alcohol and carbohydrates on fat metabolism.  Why do this?  Most people (including me) are prone to ingest sugary drinks mixed with their alcohol or eat a lot of low quality high carbohydrate food while they are drinking.  I am talking about pizza, chips, greasy cheeseburgers, etc.  They found that the combination of alcohol and carbohydrates totally shut down a body's fat burning process!  Even without the consumption of carbohydrates, they found that only two drinks reduced fat burning by 87%!  In fact, these researchers found the fat burning stopped for 4 hours after the drinking stopped.  More beer belly growth!

There are other studies that indicate that drinking alcohol will reduce protein synthesis, which helps your muscles grow.  For men, who begin to lose testosterone as early as age 25, drinking can cause a short term halt in your body's production of this key hormone.  Not a good thing for us gentlemen.

What Can We Do?

Let's face it, most of us will have a nip or two from time to time.  The key is to be reasonable about it and not go overboard. 

First, if you know you are going to drink tonight, calculate the calories from what you plan to drink and include that in your macro nutrient planning for the day.  Second, select drinks that are lower in calories by nature.  This will include mixed drinks with diet soda, tonic water or just on the rocks.  Similarly, wine is a good choice; particularly red wine which tends to be drier (less sweet) than white wine.  Third, if you eat while drinking, try to only ingest high protein foods and lay off the junk carbs.  Finally, no matter how much you drink, properly hydrate your body before going to bed.  Since alcohol messes with your metabolism, replenish your electrolytes with a sugar free sports drink or use a good hydrating drink mix.  This will help with the hangover you are going to get the next morning.

In short, as with most things in life, moderation is the key.  Alcohol and weight loss don't mix well.  Mitigate the effects as we have discussed above and do your best to get right back to our discipline the next day.


References

1.  Shelmet, J.J., Reichard, G.A., Skutches, C.L., Hoeldtke, R.D., Owen, O.E. and Boden, G. (1998). Ethanol Causes Acute Inhibition of Carbohydrate, Fat, and Protein Oxidation and Insulin Resistance. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 81(4), 1137-1145.