Alcohol & Training

Posted on September 14, 2011 by Anthony

When I’m consulting clients on weight loss I often get asked which alcohol drink is best for weight loss. While it’s true that some choices are better than others there’s a lot of trickery being used by alcohol manufacturers to deceive you. I figured it would be helpful to give you a quick course on the straight truth about alcohol and how it impacts your body’s ability to burn fat.

Don’t Be Fooled By “Low-Carb” Drinks

Many people mistakenly believe that a liquor drink like vodka is best for weight loss because it contains no carbs and very little sugar. The same thing can be said for “low-carb” light beers. This is where the trickery comes in from the manufacturers. The problem with alcohol has little to do with the carb or sugar content to begin with.

When fruits or grains are fermented to make wine, beer, or liquor the majority of all sugars are converted to alcohol. With the exception of dark beers there’s very little carbohydrate and sugar left in the final product. A 5 ounce glass of red or white wine will typically contain only 1-3 grams of carbohydrates. The same thing is true for light-beers and liquor drinks.

Just so you know, low-carb beers are simply the old light beers with a new label and ad campaign. The old Miller Light has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs. The “low-carb” Michelob Ultra has 96 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs. Big whoopee.

The difference in carb and calorie content between light beers is so small it’s not even worth mentioning. Don’t kid yourself into believing you’re making a big difference by selecting an “ultra-low carb” light beer.

How Alcohol Is Used By Your Body

Alright pay attention because this is where I’m going to give you some straight talk on the truth about how alcohol is used by your body. Your body can use the following sources for energy; carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol.

Notice that alcohol is not lumped into together with carbohydrates. It’s because alcohol is not a carbohydrate and gets used totally different in your body. From an energy standpoint carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram, fat 9 calories per gram, and alcohol 7 calories per gram.

Your body draws from any number of these energy sources to a large extent depending on availability.

When you drink alcohol your body uses that energy first and in essence stops the fat burning process.

Alcohol gets converted by your liver into a substance called acetate which is used preferentially for fuel before carbohydrates, proteins or fat. Bottom line is when you have alcohol available for energy your body will not oxidize or burn fat for fuel.

It’s not that alcohol in moderation is necessarily a bad thing for weight loss…just know that when you’re drinking alcohol you won’t be burning fat. And you’re likely to be in a “fat storing” state for several hours after you consumer alcohol. How long you stay in a “fat storing” state depends on how much you drink and how many calories you consume from food while you were drinking.

How Alcohol Messes With Your Metabolism

Make no mistakes about it, drinking alcohol throws off your metabolism. You’ll always use the acetate from alcohol conversion for energy over other nutrients first and what you don’t use will get stored as fat.

A recent study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated how alcohol throws off fat metabolism. In this study eight men were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained just under 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink.

For several hours after consuming the vodka drink, whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) dropped by a whopping 73%!

Alcohol Turning The Fat Burning Switches On Or Off?

Remember losing weight is all about getting your body to oxidize or burn fat for fuel. Everything you eat or drink will either feed muscle and increase metabolism or feed fat and lower metabolism.

Your muscles will only receive energy from food or drink that has nutritional value. Alcohol is empty calories void of any nutritional value for your muscles. What alcohol you don’t use for energy will eventually get stored in the fat parking lot.

Alcohol Artificially Increases Your Appetite

It’s important to understand that alcohol also acts as potent appetizer. You’re much more likely to consume excess calories from food when you drink alcohol. When you have a drink you’re likely to have a snack or eat more at your meal. The extra calories are what really make the difference at the end of the day. What calories you don’t burn gets stored as fat. It’s pretty much that simple. A “beer belly” is just that, too many empty calories from alcohol being stored as fat.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day I can’t say that an occasional alcohol drink is necessarily bad for you. Can you still enjoy alcohol in moderation and still lose weight? Absolutely, but it will always depend on what you’re doing from an overall nutrition and exercise standpoint to burn calories and create the right hormonal balances for fat loss (when alcohol is NOT in your system).

My philosophy is that if you’re doing enough from a nutrition and exercise standpoint to build lean muscle and increase metabolism you can burn off the calories from alcohol without it being stored as fat.

Tip the calorie scale too far from empty calories and you’ll gain weight. Likewise, if too much alcohol is interrupting the fat burning process you’ll find it hard to lose weight. It’s really that simple.

Having a couple glasses of wine every night after dinner is a recipe for being in a fat storing state through the night when you’re sleeping. If you do this don’t be surprised to see the scale not budge regardless of how well you’re eating otherwise or how much you’re exercising. It all boils down to moderation.

My advice is to accept the fact (and it is a fact) that you won’t be burning fat when you drink alcohol. Know that how ever many calories you take in from the drinks you consume they simply get added to your daily energy intake.

How much alcohol you can consume will depend on how many calories you can burn off for energy without it being stored as fat. Can you have an occasional glass of red wine with dinner and still reach your weight loss goals? I would say yes if you’re eating supportively and doing regular resistance and cardiovascular exercise.

It’s always going to come down to your goals and what’s important. If you drinking alcohol and not seeing the results you want then I would pull it out until you start losing weight. If you’re happy with where you’re at (from a fat loss standpoint) then go ahead and enjoy alcohol in moderation.

I personally enjoy a drink now and then and I’ll be the last person to say you should never drink alcohol. To me, the benefits of training hard and eating clean come with being able to enjoy alcohol in moderation.

Courtesy to: Shane Doll, "Shaping Concepts" Build It/ Return to top of alcohol page

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