By Chris Martinez
September 29. 2011-
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research on alcohol and its effects on health, training, and nutrition. But, what is it that I was really after? I wanted to know how fattening alcohol is, how it effects building muscle, how I can occasionally make it work with my diet, pro’s and con’s on health, and what drinks to go after in the clubs. So, I figured this would be a great topic to address because I know these same questions are pondering other people’s minds.
This happens every time summer rolls around. Vacations, clubbing, pool parties, and then some. Most of the people that are involved in health and fitness tend to miss out on a lot of fun because they feel like they have to avoid alcohol. It’s sad and a lot of it comes from not knowing the truth. It’s hard to blame these people because of the myths that are provided by mainstream magazines, internet, so called “fitness experts,” the list goes on and you get what I’m saying, it’s bullshit really! Let me do you a favor and help clear some of this nonsense up, which I will provide research and data to back up my points. After reading this article, you can repay me by going out there on the weekends and actually having some fun. Bottoms up!
Does Alcohol Make Me Fat?
Alcohol has a good and a bad side to it. Studies show, in low dosages, a drink or two per day, has potential health benefits. High dosages, have negative health benefits and makes us do dumb stuff (don’t act like you’ve never done anything while intoxicated that you regret). (1) In one study, they compared two weight loss diets (1500 calories per day). In one diet, subjects got 10 percent of their total calories from white wine (150 calories or just over a glass per day). The other group got 10 percent from grape juice. After three months, the white wine group lost close to 2 pounds more than the other group. What in the? While this study and other studies show that alcohol expends more calories, it also suppresses the oxidation of dietary fat (your body burns more calories, but burns less fat). Also, with this study, no one really knows how this would translate over a longer period of time; perhaps it would all just be neutral. So, back to the question does alcohol make you fat? It’s one of those questions that just doesn’t have a black and white answer to it; there are a lot of grey areas.
Alcohol technically acts as a macronutrient like carbs, protein, and fats because it has 7 calories per gram (carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram and fats have 9 calories per gram). But it tends to count towards carbs and fats more because they metabolically act similar when consumed. Any calories consumed should be used for energy, such as the three main macronutrients (carbs, protein and fats).
This is where it gets tricky with alcohol. Some people believe these calories don’t count and are not essential for the body, but they don’t realize that your body views alcohol as a toxin and fights to get rid of it, once it’s ingested. Why do you think downing water works so well to sober us up? This is a big reason why alcohol has a higher thermic effect (meaning it takes more calories to process than carbs, fats, and proteins) than other macronutrients because the other three macronutrients aren’t toxic, we need them for energy and our bodies aren’t resisting these nutrients like it does alcohol.
Bottom line: If you consume an astronomical amount of alcohol every day, then yes these calories will eventually lead to fat gain. I mean they’re calories and too many calories leads to excess fat gain. Like I said, it’s just not as simple as that for the reasons I stated above and other factors that I won’t get into here.
Alcohols Negative Affects on Your Health
We all know that alcohol isn’t essential for good health and has some negative effects to the body. But, don’t fret too much here or put down that jack and coke just yet because a lot of these studies that show negative effects are done with extremely high alcohol intakes and lack a lot more research and data. But, then again, don’t go off and down a whole bottle of Patron either. (2) In a study, there’s a very good point on how a large intake of alcohol has profound effects on nutritional status. A high intake of alcohol can cause a lack of proper nutrition because it could displace other nutrients in your diet. This is mainly because alcohol has a high caloric content. Also, a high alcohol intake can cause gastrointestinal problems (digestive tract) and this could lead to inadequate absorption of nutrients. This is obviously not good because when you consume your three main macronutrients, you want these nutrients to be broken down properly in your digestive tract and you want them to be taken by the blood stream to the right places so they can do their jobs.
What About Sleep and Energy?
Studies have shown a high alcohol intake can definitely disturb your sleep patterns (don’t tell me after a night of drinking that you got great sleep). We all know the negative effects to not getting proper adequate sleep, but I won’t get into that here. It also leaves you with low energy levels and feeling fatigued (why do you think we loaf around on Sundays after drinking too much).
What About Satiety Levels?
(3) In a study, they took subjects and replaced carbs with alcohol for calories and it showed that these subjects would end up overeating throughout the day because the alcohol replacement for carbs left them with low satiety levels and they wanted to eat more than normal. Ever wonder why you crave Jack in the box or late night foods after drinking (don’t you lie either)? Well, it’s because the calories in alcohol have no affect on satiety like other nutrients do and not to mention people make the mistake of drinking on empty stomachs.
Bottom line: Remember how I said not to put the Jack and coke down just yet, that’s because a lot of this research is tested in huge alcohol intakes (alcoholic sizes) and there’s simply just not enough data on it, so don’t get too worried unless your craving that full Patron bottle to yourself, then there’s problems. Let’s be real though, high alcohol consumption does have serious negative effects on your health, so don’t abuse it, use it in moderation.
Alcohol Has Positive Affects on our Health
We all know most of the dangerous and negative effects alcohol brings to us (liver disease, heart failure, and personal problems). I talked briefly about how in low dosages, a drink or two per day, have potential health benefits. There are studies that have shown the following positive effects of alcohol: Moderate consumption of beer (11-22 ounces per day) improved immune response in two recent studies, improved concentrations of blood lipids, reduced inflammation and heart disease. Red wine (1-2 glasses a day) has shown: Cardio protective benefits, helps with blood flow, increased HDL (good cholesterol), and reduced blood clotting. Hard alcohol, there isn’t much data that shows positive effects from consumption, besides some hard alcohols have antioxidants in them and could help with cancer properties but very little data on that.
Bottom line: Just because alcohol has a lot of bad and dangerous effects to your health and body, doesn’t mean you can’t have a couple of drinks here and there and have a good time. Look at the great benefits as well: Reduced inflammation and heart disease, improved blood lipids, increased blood flow, increased HDL, lowered Alzheimer’s disease, improved metabolic syndrome, etc. It’s almost dumb not to have a few drinks here and there. This is why I get pissed when people give alcohol a bad name and it’s because they don’t know how it truly affects the body and they don’t know how to drink in moderation.
Does Alcohol Affect Hormones and Training?
Now you’ve probably heard someone say that if you drink alcohol, then it’s going to affect your testosterone levels, protein synthesis rates, and your overall training. Well, I can’t lie, for a while I would be hesitant to have a few drinks on the weekends because of these fabrications. But, it’s really over exaggerated. (4) In a study, theytook nine subjects over a three day treatment and had them consume alcohol (approx 70-80g of alcohol which is the equivalent to 7 beers) after their workouts and there were no real significant effects to lowering testosterone levels. (5) In another study, they had men and women drinking 30-40g of alcohol per day (equivalent to 3-4 beers) for 3 weeks and showed a 6.8% reduction in testosterone in men and zero reduction in women (ladies this doesn’t give you the green light to drink a case of Coronas). So guys, that’s basically 3 beers a day for 3 weeks straight and it only lowered testosterone a measly 6.8%. What kind of effect would you think a couple of beers would have once or twice a week a night? Hardly any!
For alcohol to seriously impair your testosterone you have to do some heavy drinking. Studies show somewhere around 120g of alcohol (equivalent to 10 beers) lowered testosterone by 23% for 16 hours. Also, it is very true that alcohol will negatively impair your training. Just try doing your own experiment and drink every day for a couple weeks and see if you bring the same intensity into the gym? I highly doubt it! So, you can see how easy it is to believe a myth through the media, internet, hear say, ect. But when you have the research and data to back it up, there’s not much one can really say and that’s what I’m providing here.
As for protein synthesis (the muscle makes new contractile proteins and incorporates them into the muscle tissue to make it stronger and larger over time), the short effects of alcohol on muscle protein synthesis in normal human subjects are non-existent in the scientific literature. It has only been studied in chronic alcoholics, which have reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis. So, unless you are substituting patron for water with your protein shakes after your workouts, there’s really nothing to worry about with protein synthesis.
Bottom line: Even though alcohol doesn’t affect testosterone that much or protein synthesis, it still doesn’t mean you should be drinking shit loads of alcohol after your workouts or in general. Going back to the point where a high intake of alcohol can cause a lack of proper nutrition because it could displace other nutrients in your diet. You want lean proteins and complex carbs after your workouts to ensure growth and recovery. Not protein shakes and Jaeger bombs. Come on people! (Sounds kind of good though, can’t lie.)
I hope many of you don’t look at this as a negative thing I wrote about because let’s be honest here, a lot of us do casually drink. We work very hard in all aspects of life and we deserve to let loose once and a while. For those of you that don’t drink for specific reasons, my hat goes off to you and that’s your thing. Just keep in mind that the bottom line for this whole article is alcohol isn’t essential for good health, and there’s no reason to think it improves your performance in anything.
Trust me, you keep drinking enough, it will slow you down in your workouts and will suppress other nutrients you consume and that in the long run will lead to shitty gains in the gym. But, at the same time, drinking in moderation is not a bad thing and will not affect your journey in attaining that body that you bust your ass for everyday. Look at the benefits it has, it’s almost as if you should have a couple of drinks a week. So, now that you’ve read this, hopefully you will let loose on your vacations, have fun in the club, relax, and enjoy some good wine on weekends. Whatever it is that you choose to do, just don’t buy into the mainstream bullshit unless they have data to back it up.
If you would like some tips on drinks to go after at the clubs and how to incorporate moderate drinking in your diet, then continue reading below. For those of you that are done reading this long article, maybe the simplest advice I can give you is: If you drink so much that it interferes with your training, then you really need to consider cutting back. If the amount you drink doesn’t affect what you do, let me know, and let’s grab a drink sometime.
How to Incorporate Moderate Alcohol Consumption into Your Macros:
- Always remember alcohol has 7 calories per gram
- 5 oz wine that is 10% alcohol for example: 5 oz = 140g. 10% of 140 is 14. 14 x 7 = 98 kcal. So you can take that 98 kcal out of your carb (4kcal/g) or fat (9 kcal/g). Say I took it out of carbs, 98 /4 = 24g carbs.
- 3 oz (2 normal sized shot glasses) Tequilla that is 40% alcohol for example: 3 oz = 85g. 40% of 85 is 34. 34 x 7 = 238 kcal. So you can take that 238 kcal out of your carb (4kcal/g) or fat (9 kcal/g). Say I took it out of fat, 238 / 9 = 26g of fat.
- If you know you are going to drink that evening/night, then during the day, shave off some fats and carbs and opt for protein to save some calories for the alcohol beverages
- Dont skip meals, if anything, have more protein that day
- If you end up overdoing it on the alcohol consumption that day/night, then the next day, cut down on some of yoir total fats and carbs allotment for the day
- For effective fat loss, keep alcohol consumption with the above tips to once a week. If you follow these tips and are on point with your diet and training the rest of the days, I promise you’ll continue to lose fat and make gains in muscle
Tips on drinks to go after at the club and then some:
- Try dry wines, which are very low in carbs
- Sweet wines are much higher in carbs
- Whatever choice of hard alcohol you choose to drink, make sure to mix it with diet soda, club soda or just a splash of real fruit juice. There’s no need to get the extra calories with all that sugary junk out there
- Use crystal light packets to make your own chasers or mixed drinks, these are very low in calories
- If you go for beer, go for light beer. Less calories and carbs and remember the darker the beer, the more calories and carbs
- Drink a glass of water in between drinks to stay hydrated
- Stay away from fried-greasy foods after the club. Better yet bring a meal with you to your car or a protein shake to hold you off until you get home for a healthier meal. Who gives a shit what people think? Have fun, be smart & be safe!
(1) Flechtner-Mors M, et al. Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Nov;28(11):1420-6.
(2) Lieber, Charles S. Perspectives: Do alcohol calories count? Am J Clin Nutr. 1991; 54:976-82
(3) Pirola RC, Lieber CS. The energy cost of the metabolism of drugs, including ethanol. Pharmacology 1972; 7: 185-96
(4) Koziris LP, et al. Effect of acute postexercise ethanolintoxication on the neuroendocrine response to resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. 200 Jan:88(1):165-172.
(5) Sierksma A, et al. Effect of moderate alcohol consumption on plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, testosterone, and estradiol levels in middle-aged men and postmenopausal women: a diet-controlled intervention study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 May; 28(5): 708-5.
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