Alcohol and fitness
It’s a Sunday morning, and Steve has just woken up after a night out with the lads thinking about his alcohol and fitness. The words going around in his head “why on earth did I do that”. Did I offended anyone and how much money did I spend? Maybe another drink would make me feel better. Knowing his girlfriend would not agree, a coffee is the next best thing.
Does this sound familiar or like someone you know? Alcohol can destroy your life a lot easier than it can improve it, yet we do it to ourselves anyway. Crazy right! Who on earth invented a toxin that the majority of the population would fall in love with that can destroy their health at the same time?
So how can you enjoy a drink or 3, if you are trying to achieve a fitness goal
Alcohol is a substance called Ethyl (ethanol), which is produced by the fermentation of grains and fruits. In this chemical process, yeast acts upon certain ingredients in the food, creating alcohol. Is all alcohol equal? Yes, it is!
It’s the way that the drinks are made that is different but the alcohol is always the same – things are just added to make them taste different. It’s the quality of the alcohol that can be different. Commercial alcohol that we can buy in shops and bars has to meet strict health standards, so we are sort of protected in terms of the quality, but unrecorded alcohol such as illegal, counterfeit or smuggled drinks carry a small chance of being other ‘alcohols’ which could be poisonous, such as methanol.
If you have ever been offered some dodgy vodka from France and beyond, it could have harmful ingredients and should be avoided at all costs because that can give you an even worse hangover and impact your fitness.
Alcohol in the diet and society
It’s very common for people to drink on the weekends or midweek, even though they know it is not going to help them lose weight or improve their fitness. Depending on how much you drink, it may be worth considering why you are drinking in the first place if it is having a negative effect on your life?
Nobody likes a hangover or the bad decisions we tend to make when under the influence. Flexible dieting would be worth keeping in mind here.
Make no mistake! this will massively affect your fitness and performance in the gym and bring progress to a halt. We all enjoy a bit of fun every now and then and making those moves on the dance floor like John Travolta but you are also much more likely to indulge in high-calorie unhealthy foods because of our perception of taste changes.
Plus an almost insatiable appetite, and a requirement for extreme amounts of pleasure (often resulting in the consumption of a lot of added sugars and fats).
Is it still fun?
If you had fun that’s great, but we often make poor romantic decisions, that could lead to an unexpected pregnancy or STD’s with someone you don’t really know that well.
And the chances of ruining relationships and getting into fights massively increases when too much alcohol is consumed.
So is there a way to keep it under control and still make gains in the gym?
What happens when we drink alcohol?
We become sexier, suddenly look fantastic to the opposite sex and our confidence sky-rockets?
As well as this…
» Ethanol (alcohol) within the human body is converted into something called acetaldehyde, and then into something else called acetyl CoA
» Acetyl CoA is also the final product of both carbohydrates and fat
Metabolism as well, where the acetyl can be further used to produce energy.
» So, ethanol can be used as energy the same as carbohydrates, fats and protein.
The big difference here is that it simply carries a lot more negative effects, and unfortunately for fat loss, it becomes the bodies main priority.
Try not to lose focus
So fat loss and muscle building sort of get put on the back burner until the body removes the toxin (alcohol)
This also means that with those 6 pints of beer in your system, those love handles are not going anywhere my buddy.
Because the body will burn the extra calories from the alcohol before it starts to use the burger and chips you ate the night before.
Do that more than once a week and the quest for lasting fat loss and body composition change becomes more challenging.
Alcohol, lifestyle and training
Alcohol is a nonessential macro-nutrient the same as protein, carbs and fats.
Did you know that alcohol has a really high thermic effect, meaning that you lose a lot of this energy as heat?
You actually lose around 20% of those ingested calories immediately upon ingestion
(which is a lot, and why you often feel warmer while drinking)
It does actually provide usable energy, but unlike the other three, we just don’t need it.
When you consume nutrients, your body will burn them as energy in a preferred order based on how much of each you are able to store energy for later use.
This order is:
We can store quite a lot of fat, so this is oxidized last. Then we have protein which we can store around 20-30kg in muscles and organs, depending on the person.
Carbohydrates which we can store as glycogen in the range of 4-500g, and finally alcohol which cannot be stored at all and must, therefore, be used immediately.
What this means is that consuming protein and carbs shuts off fat oxidation until the protein/carb energy is used up or stored where needed, then fat oxidation starts happening again
If you eat a diet higher in fats, then fat oxidation happens much more, but you are also eating more fat, so it balances out.
Put alcohol into the mix and it also stops fat oxidation, but it also stops carb and protein oxidation too.
How is alcohol metabolized then?
The metabolic process that Alcohol goes through means it cannot be stored as fat “straight away at least”, so it effects fat loss in the same way as carbohydrates do by increasing the storage of dietary fat, especially if you have eaten too much in the first place.
So if you want to build muscle and burn fat, alcohol needs to be controlled for you to get the most out of your training.
Try keeping carbs and fats low during the day if you are planning to drink later on – This will save 150kcals or so off at lunch, or a potato for those not using Myfitnesspal.com, and you can indulge in a few drinks later.
As long as this isn’t done regularly by fasting, or eating extremely lightly in order to binge drink every week, this is a practical way to include alcohol into a regular balanced diet.
And when it comes to training, be sure not to make any of these 5 worst gym mistakes.
There was once an experiment that went like this:
Weight gain was negligible in chronic alcoholics, who were given 2,000 calories of alcohol daily, on top of the 2,500 calories from foods they consumed to maintain their weight.
But when the same number of additional calories was fed as chocolate, a steady weight gain was seen.
This was researched and demonstrated by a New York physician by the name of Dr Charles S. Lieber, who wrote a paper “Perspectives: Do alcohol calories count?”
If you would like to avoid unpleasant things like High blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases or liver disease, then now is the time to address it. If you feel like your alcohol use is getting out of control or having a negative impact on your life and fitness goals.
Consuming alcohol easily takes you over your daily calorie requirements, which of course will lead to fat gain – so if you don’t drink in excess then it can be managed.
If you can’t resist then think of it as a cheat or ‘off plan’ meal.
Alcohol has calories in it just like any other micro-nutrient (7 calories per gram to be exact)
it also has the knock-on effects of altering our recovery and growth potential.
100% commitment to a plan with a few flaws, is better than no commitment at all. Do you want results? You’re going to have to look at calories as the main determining factor.
Maybe these extra tips will help
If you are going to drink a lot, a night out for example, then one strategy could be to eat lightly during the day.
Focus your meals on protein and vegetables, to make sure you hit your protein goal for the day and obtain your micro-nutrient for the day, whilst leaving a space that allows for the calorie load of your drinking.
When you do drink, focus on light beers, wine and spirits with calorie-free mixers, and do not get a pizza or burger while you wait for a taxi.
If you are going to have a beer or glass of wine with a meal (or two). Simply reduce or remove your added carbs and fat load from lunch and don’t worry too much about it.
A 200 calorie pint, or glass of wine is not going to ruin your goals, a huge weekend bender likely won’t either if you follow the above advice, but try not to do it all the time,
Because it will affect your recovery and performance, as well as your appetite. Important if you want to see that 6 pack again!
It’s probably not a good idea to get plastered post workout either, but one beer isn’t going to do too much damage.
Enjoy life and be happy, being too stressed can also disrupt your efforts.
Reference: Body Type Nutrition