Alcohol and Body Composition
Are we getting drinks or DRANKS? Are we drinking ourselves out of achieving our health and fitness goals? Many people enjoy its sedating influence and it does play a vital role in many of society’s traditions and practices. But, one effect alcohol has, which is not widely discussed, is its impact on body composition. In its purest form, ethyl alcohol, which supplies seven calories per gram, alcohol provides energy, bumping up one’s total energy balance whenever it is consumed.
Unlike macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fats, alcohol supplies what nutritionists often refer to as empty calories: calories without nutrition. To make matters worse, it is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fats and proteins, postponing the fat-burning process and contributing to greater fat storage.
This is what physically happens to your body when you drink:
When you drink alcohol, it’s broken down into acetate (basically vinegar), which the body will burn before any other calorie you’ve consumed or stored, including fat or even sugar. So if you drink and consume more calories than you need, you’re more likely to store the fat from the Cheez Whiz you ate and the sugar from the Coke you drank because your body is getting all its energy from the acetate in the beer you sucked down.
Further, studies show that alcohol temporarily inhibits “lipid oxidation”— in other words, when alcohol is in your system, it’s harder for your body to burn fat that’s already there. Since eating fat is the most metabolically efficient way to put fat on your body—you actually use a small amount of calories when you turn excess carbs and protein into body fat, but excess fat slips right into your saddlebags, no costume change necessary—hypothetically speaking, following a high-fat, high-alcohol diet would be the easiest way to put on weight.This does not mean that you cannot drink moderately and lose weight.
Take note: Alcohol is not a diet food
In a 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the drinking habits of 19,220 U.S. women aged 39 or older with “normal weight” (based on BMI) were tracked for 13 years. 60 percent were light or regular drinkers, while 40 percent reported drinking no alcohol. Over the course of the study 41 percent of the women became overweight or obese, but the nondrinkers were the ones who ended up gaining more weight. Meanwhile, the risk of becoming overweight was 30 percent lower for women who limited themselves to one or two alcoholic beverages a day.
Still, alcohol is not a diet food: A 5-ounce glass of wine has around 150 calories, a 1.5-ounce shot of vodka or 12 ounces of light beer, 100. For every drink you have, you have to subtract something else from your diet or log another mile on the treadmill— or risk weight gain. Further, people eat about 30 percent more food when they consume alcohol, possibly because alcohol interferes with satiety or simply because it makes your judgment fuzzier about whether or not you should have a second helping of doughnuts or potato skins.
Here are some big concerns with alcohol consumption.
1. Alcohol Supplies Almost Twice As Many Calories As Protein And Carbs
At seven calories per gram, alcohol supplies almost twice as many as protein and carbohydrates. In fact, alcohol has only two fewer calories than fat, which has nine per gram. It must also be remembered that the calories in alcohol lack the nutrients beneficial for a healthy metabolism and will therefore hasten fat storage.
The calories found in the average alcoholic drink are quite concentrated compared to many foods, and this actually causes one to inadvertently take in many more calories than would otherwise be consumed. Alcohol is quite deceptive in that it passes through the system rapidly, often before the drinker is aware of the number of drinks they have had.
Alcoholic drinks also contain calories from other sources, which add to overall caloric intake. Certain cocktails, for example, contain fats. Wine and beer both have high carbohydrate content. Although the affects these various calorie types have on the body are different—carbohydrates release insulin, which can hasten fat storage, while fats will be stored directly in the fat cells—the overall result is added body fat.
An example of how many calories can be easily consumed can be seen with a small glass of wine: a 5-ounce glass of wine will typically contain 110 calories, 91 of which come from the alcohol itself (13 grams), with the remaining five grams coming from carbohydrates.
Beer contains more carbohydrates (although many of the “Lite” beers have a carb content similar to a glass of wine) and less alcohol than wine, but is seen as being more fattening, due to its higher energy content.
2. Alcohol Loosens The Inhibitions
While drinking, people usually will not stop to consider the impact alcohol is having on their bodies; such is alcohol’s affect on loosening the inhibitions. The result of this relaxed thinking could mean more calories consumed and extra body fat gains. Those drinking might also eat more of the wrong kinds of food, without thinking of the consequences.
Alcohol tends to have an appetite stimulating effect as it provides little in the way of nutrition, leaving a craving for other foods at the time of consumption. Add this to the fact that fatty and salty foods tend to accompany most occasions featuring alcohol (as well as alcohol actually stimulating one’s appetite for these kinds of foods), and the general loosening of resolve that goes with an inebriated mindset, and you have a recipe for excess fat gain. Alcohol has also been shown to affect motivation, making a healthy diet harder to stay on while it is being used. This in turn affects overall ability to maintain healthy lifestyle choices.
3. Alcohol Can Damage The Stomach, Kidneys, And Liver
Given alcohol is a by-product of yeast digestion; it can have an irritating effect on the lining of the stomach and gradually weaken the kidneys and liver, leading to serious health problems—even death in certain instances. Any weakening of the stomach will lessen the rate and efficiency at which food is digested, which ultimately interferes with a healthy metabolism and the weight loss process.
The liver—which processes toxins and breaks down fats for fuel—is crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition. Alcohol is at its most destructive during the liver’s detoxification process.
4. Alcohol Lowers Testosterone
Testosterone, which has a powerful fat loss effect, is reduced whenever alcohol is consumed, thus halting its full potential as a fat burner. Also, testosterone as an anabolic hormone, contributes to gains in lean muscle mass. Lowered testosterone means fewer muscle gains, and less muscle means a lowered metabolic rate.
A lower metabolic rate will make the job of losing fat all the more harder. This is what governs the way we use energy. Those with a higher metabolic rate will burn more calories at rest. By interfering with testosterone production, alcohol indirectly causes the body to lower its metabolic rate (and thus the rate at which it uses energy) and directly prohibits testosterone from exerting its powerful fat-burning effects.
5. Alcohol Increases Appetite
Touched on briefly in point two, alcohol can increase appetite, making the combination of alcohol and a fattening meal all the more worse. Various studies have shown that alcohol consumed before a meal increased caloric intake to a far greater extent than did a carbohydrate drink. Research has shown over and over again that if a group of people were given a meal and allowed to eat as much as they wanted, alcohol, rather than a soft drink, would increase the amount of food consumed.
Some more general guidelines follow:
Drink alcohol with a lower caloric value, and a higher alcohol percentage (like wine for example). Less will be consumed, meaning lower overall calorie consumption.
Avoid high-calorie liqueurs. These are extremely deceptive (they taste so good) and will add enormously to overall caloric content.
Keep healthy food on hand when drinking. As mentioned, drinking will relax the inhibitions and cause one to compromise their nutritional habits.
If drinking beer, try a lower calorie alternative. Also, drink diet sodas with various spirits to significantly lower the calorie content of these drinks.
Drink water between alcoholic drinks. This will increase feelings of fullness and may help to prevent over consumption of alcohol.
So, what is one to do? Given alcohol plays a large role in celebration and social cohesion, can one completely refrain from its use? It really depends on the goals a person has. Most could probably consume limited levels of alcohol (two or three standard drinks once per week) without any problem.
Larger amounts (more than seven drinks at any one time, or drinking multiple times per week), often described as binge drinking, can cause major problems and probably should not be advocated. Maintaining reasonable levels of health, while enjoying a few drinks—using moderation as the key—should be no problem. However, athletes—who definitely are not your average population—wanting to improve performance, and those wanting to lose weight are a different issue entirely.
Alcohol, as shown, will negate any efforts to lose body fat and will alter performance for the worst. The best advice would be to totally abstain, or severely limit, until performance and weight loss goals are obtained.