Wrap up warm folks.
With the festive season fast approaching, a question on a lot of your minds will be: can I still enjoy alcohol on my fat loss journey?
In short, the answer is yes.
However, it’s important you understand the science as to how alcohol affects the body and fat-burning mechanisms to be able to make informed decisions.
Alcohol is a chemical compound called ethanol which is made by fermenting sugar.
Each gram of ethanol contains approximately 7 calories. That’s even more than carbohydrates, which contain 4 calories per gram and nearly as much as fats which contain 9 calories per gram!
However, there’s more to nutrition than calories, and alcohol doesn’t contain any vitamins or minerals, or any of the nutritional components that make you feel full.
The calories consumed through alcohol drinks are essentially ‘empty’ liquid calories consumed on top of your regular food day.
A small glass of wine or a pint of beer can contain between 100-200 calories each. The average person requires approximately 2000 calories a day, so if your goal is weight management, having a few drinks is likely to tip you out of your calorie deficit and into a calorie excess.
You will already know from my previous posts that calorie excess = fat gain.
Alcohol inhibits fat loss
When alcohol is being digested and metabolised, it causes a ‘sugar spike’ in your blood which causes a release of the hormone, insulin.
Insulin’s job is to move the sugar (glucose) from the blood and into your muscle and liver for storage as glycogen.
Insulin in the blood switches off the fat burning process of ‘lipolysis’ (lipo-lysis = fat breakdown’) meaning when you have alcohol in your system, you are unlikely to be burning fat during this time.
So, if your goal is to be burning fat, you want to be minimising the amount of time that lipolysis is switched off.
Increased appetite and loss of control
Let’s be honest; we can all relate to this…
Have you ever noticed you stick to your nutrition plan or macros all week, or only eat wholesome foods and then come the weekend you have a couple of drinks and end up in the local takeaway consuming your daily carbs in just one meal?
If you want to have a takeaway, I fully support having a bit of what you fancy, but you may not have done this had the alcohol not reduced your inhibitions.
Alcohol is most often consumed in the evenings
Leading on from point number 3; most people consume alcohol in the evenings.
If your last meal is usually 8pm for example, and then your breakfast is 8am, you have a natural fasting period of 12 hours with no food (hence why breakfast is called the breakfast!).
But if you are consuming alcohol over these night-time hours, you are consuming calories in the time when you would typically be fasting.
This is likely to mean over the whole day; your calorie intake will be higher and slow down your progress.
Alcohol can reduce exercise performance
Many of us are familiar with the effects of a hangover. Usually, it comes with a craving to stay in bed and binge on Netflix and all things sugary!
If you do make it to the gym the day after, your training performance is likely to be reduced due to the hangover set up of dehydration, headache and hypersensitivity to stimuli, such as light and sound.
You may feel weaker and tire more quickly as the body is metabolising the alcohol in your system rather than the lactic acid produced during exercise.
Alcohol has also been shown to reduce testosterone levels. Testosterone is not just the male hormone – it’s a hormone present in both men and women and crucial for building that sought-after muscle!
Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, and you still progress towards your goals, make sure that you stick within your weekly calorie limits.
There are some lower calorie options, for example, a slimline Gin and Tonic contains around 60 calories (compared to that fruity summer cider which can come in at a whopping 500 calories per bottle!).
Usually, it is the mixer that adds the calories so you could try fresh fruit juices with no added sugar, or if you like a fizzy drink then a diet alternative.
The NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (this is equivalent to half a bottle of wine).
It’s also better not to binge-drink all of these units in one sitting, and instead, spread it out over 3 days in the week. It’s also really important to have a couple of days off per week with no alcohol in your system to give your liver a rest.
I always recommend sticking to the NHS guidance if you are going to drink alcohol. If you think you may be consuming too much then please seek medical help from your GP or go to www.drinkaware.com