It’s old news that alcohol contains calories (seven per gram, the most calorific substance after fat), and therefore can cause weight gain. We all know that, it’s common sense. So, why, specifically, does it interfere with fat loss?
Why does it cause fat gain? How come some foods will make you build muscle, especially if you eat them in large enough calorific quantities, whilst others will produce, quite literally, a beer belly?
Alcohol, when consumed, is the first substance to be metabolised into energy by the body, before anything else you’ve eaten or drank, and instead of existing fat stores. I wouldn’t blame your body either for doing this; alcohol is a toxin after all. Whilst your body is burning off the alcohol, it is NOT burning the food or fat stores that WOULD be being burnt otherwise. Remember you are burning to some degree all the time and not just when exercising – even just going about your daily business requires calories.
However a study found that consuming 24 g of alcohol could decrease your body’s lipid oxidation or ability to burn fat by a staggering 73 percent. Drinking alcohol can also decrease the production of muscle-strengthening testosterone and increase that of cortisone, a muscle-destroying stress hormone.
Alcohol also has secondary effects; it impairs liver function, and the liver plays an important part in glucose (sugar) metabolism, and when alcohol passes the liver, it produces a by-product called Acetate, which inhibits fat burning capabilities of the body; diabetes can arise from the havoc it plays with blood sugar levels, and again, common sense means we all know your inhibitions go out the window when drunk, so you’re not likely to give a damn that a kebab and chips was never really part of your get fit resolutions.
Alcohol calories are ‘empty’, that is they provide no nutrition, unlike most food and drink, and in addition to that, it inhibits nutrient absorption, so delivers a double whammy towards nutrient deficiency. Dehydration caused by alcohol also prevents efficient muscle formation.
If you must drink alcohol, try to stick to low sugar options, so mix with slimline tonic water or diet mixers instead of sugary ones, or even better have a good quality, organic red wine. In terms of a fat loss lifestyle cutting back on starchy carb intake on days you drink alcohol would lessen the effects on blood sugar slightly, but eating fewer carbs is not a reason to drink alcohol more often – that’s not the idea and will lead to health problems eventually.
The good news is that since alcohol carbohydrates are not stored in the body as fat cells, your body can return to a fat burning state once all the alcohol consumed has been used up. However the increase in calories ingested, possibly combined with other calories (drink mixers, other sugary or starchy foods), followed by the tiredness and hangover, however mild, will most likely mean alcohol will play the role of a ‘pause’ button at best, and may even set you back slightly.
No one wants to miss out on fun, but before your spend your Christmas bonus entirely on booze, be informed and think before you drink!