Alcohol and weight loss don’t exactly go together like wine and cheese.
Unless we’re discussing the short term weight loss, throwing up in a bin after a night of tequila may supply…
But, unsurprisingly, we aren’t.
I suppose we should get the very obvious fact out of the way before we delve any further into the topic: If you want to lose weight as fast as possible, and have aspirations of being the world’s healthiest person, then you shouldn’t drink any booze.
But, we know that, right?
No-one ever cracked open a cold beer with the thought in their head that consuming the entire case would contribute to their abdominal definition.
We don’t drink alcohol for the health benefits- we drink alcohol because of the social relaxation it provides, because it lowers inhibitions, and honestly? Because having a few beers with friends is fun.
So, before I quickly run through the negative consequences of boozing- allow me to assure you that this guide isn’t designed to discourage you from drinking alcohol ever again.
A balanced lifestyle should be enjoyed- it shouldn’t be a burden to maintain.
So, that caveat aside, let’s go through the reasons alcohol can contribute to increase fat storage:
1) Alcohol Calories Are Empty (and dense)
Ignoring the other macronutrients found within most boozing options for a moment, alcohol alone contains approximately 7 calories per gram- almost twice as many as carbs or protein.
But, unlike carbs, protein (and fat), our body has no functional need for alcohol calories, so all they’ll do is increase our daily energy intake with little to no physiological benefit (other than the fact you’ll probably be a way, way better dancer).
2) Alcohol Suppresses Fat-Burning
The funny thing about booze is, contrary to popular belief; you won’t likely store it as fat. The body will actually turn to the alcohol calories before any other to burn as a fuel source- which sounds like a good thing right? However…
Because the consumption of alcohol suppresses the use of other macronutrients for fuel or other purposes, it encourages your body to store them as fat (hence it not being a good thing).
3) Alcohol Reduces Muscle Growth (slightly)
Alcohol consumption has been proven to have a negative impact on growth hormone, testosterone levels, and protein synthesis…
But, that being said, most studies showing any significant impact were done on chronic, high quantity drinkers- in moderation (which we’ll get to), whilst not optimal, it’s certainly not going to rob you of all the hard work you’ve put in in the gym.
4) Excessive Alcohol Consumption Affects Sleep
Yes, you might ‘pass-out’ easily, but many of the awesome functions our body goes through whilst sleeping are put on hold while we deal with the toxin we decided to ingest- Check out this blog on why poor sleep will have a less-than-desirable effect on fat loss.
5) Hangovers Suck
… I probably don’t need to elaborate on this one.
Ok, So How Do We Limit These Possible Fat-Loss Issues?
Well it’d be a terrible drinking guide if I didn’t address how you can still enjoy the occasional beverage and still lose fat, wouldn’t it?
1. Moderation is key
Ok, ok, I know, this is something your school nurse probably preached if your education system was forward-thinking enough to include alcohol in the syllabus.
Hell it’s probably something your Mum reminded you of the first time you headed out to party at 18 years old (pretending you hadn’t gotten drunk before that point, obviously).
But, despite the advice being cliched, it’s still highly relevant.
You can lose weight if you’re drinking a glass or two of wine a couple of nights a week.
You can lose weight if once a week you go out and have two or three pints with your mates (in fact, such social interactions are great for your health).
Hell, you can probably lose weight long term if once a month you go out and plastered, and you remain tee-total the rest of the time, and follow a sensible diet and training plan (notice I say lose weight, not that it’s the healthy option).
Losing weight if you’re drinking every night, or binge drinking every weekend though? That’s where things get a little tricky.
Yes, technically you could reduce your days calories to allow for the boozing cals in the evening session…
But, you’d be taking away useful, nourishing calories and replacing them with ‘energy’ that provides little to no physiological benefits.
So, if you want to enjoy a drink but still lose weight? Try and limit yourself to 2 glass of wine or beer, no more than twice a week (and if your weight loss stalls, it might want to be the first thing you consider reducing).
2. Avoid Sugary Drinks
Alright, so there are other calories beside those coming from alcohol hidden in some of your favourite party drinks.
The biggest culprit of additional calories (which remember, when paired with booze most often get stored as fat), is within pre-made mixers, or in the practice of mixing sugary sodas with liquor.
Which is why, if we’re talking from a purely calorie standpoint (which whilst important, isn’t the be all and end all of fat loss, as you can see in this blog), a night binging on Rum & Coke will cause elevated insulin levels, increased calories consumed, and fat storage (oh, and possibly even worse sleep from the caffeine).
Instead, my go to drink?
Gin, sparkling water, and lime juice.
Which also has the added benefit of hydrating me on a night out, which brings me to point number 3…
3. Hydrate In Between Alcoholic Beverages
We’ve covered this a few time in the Luke Bremner Fitness blog, but one more won’t hurt- dehydration causes increased hunger, reduced digestive function, a decreased performance in the gym and reduced cognitive clarity.
Simply put; being dehydrated is terrible for you.
And straight alcohol, as you’re probably aware, contributes to dehydration.
So, in between the beverage of your choosing (The above gin suggestion being preferable), drink a glass of water- this will also serve to help reduce the hangover the next day, if you do go overboard with the quantity.
4. Don’t Binge Eat!
As touched upon earlier, the biggest culprit for fat storage whilst eating isn’t the booze alone, it’s the pairing of alcohol with high carb, high fat foods.
Kebabs or pizza after a night on the town sound familiar?
Now moderation is probably going to lessen the chances of this occurring- after all it’s usually only when you’re trashed that a Doner Kebab seems like a good idea, right?
But just to be sure, it’s usually a good shout to hide your ‘treat foods’ from view before you head out drinking with friends- you’re a lot less likely to grab a bag of crisps on the walk to bed if it’s not lying on the side table as you stumble in.
5. Eat High Protein With Alcohol
If you’re going out for a meal with friends, and you know you’ll be consuming a bottle of wine to yourself- put that willpower to use and make a healthy dinner choice.
The wine (or beer) you’re consuming whilst in that good company will count as your carbohydrates- so allow yourself a bun-less burger, or a steak and vegetables at the restaurant, instead of drinking the beer alongside nachos and wondering why your pants are getting tighter every week.
Alright, so in summary, let’s make the assumption you have a weekly catch up with your friends and you want to drink with them.
- Try and have 2-3 drinks maximum
- Try and stick with Gin or similar spirit with a low calorie mixer
- Drink one glass of water between each boozey beverage
- Order a high protein, low carb meal if eating
- Hide the snack food for the return home
- Have fun
If it’s your birthday however, or a catch up with old friends, enjoy yourself.
Will it contribute to fat-loss? No. Can you have a great time without drinking to excess? Of course. Should life be enjoyed, and is allowing yourself a 10-20% mental break from a ‘healthy lifestyle’ great for your mind, body and spirit? Hell yes.
So, with that in mind- moderation is key, but if you are celebrating; make it a good one.
We should all take time to switch off and enjoy ourselves from time to time, it’s important for our mental health. When it includes alcohol, it can be confusing getting your head around what and how much is OK to drink.
The Luke Bremner Fitness team have worked with hundreds of clients who initially found weight loss difficult and challenging, as you may be now. Tailored nutritional advice is part of all our programmes here, so you can enjoy treats with confidence to support your weight loss or health boosting goals.
By breaking it down in to simple, actionable steps that are achieveable, we can help, just like we have with the hundreds of clients we’ve worked with – many of whom you can read about here.
To find our more about our nutrition coaching, programmes and how we can help you achieve your goals, you can book in for your complimentary consultation.