Alcohol, dieting, weight loss and fitness
The happy-hour gin and tonic. A glass of wine with dinner. A mimosa with brunch or a few beers on the weekend. Before you know a few drinks can really add up.
Is that a problem? Can drinking really stand in-between you and your health and fitness goals?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you not to drink. I simply want you to know more about the topic to be able to make the best decision for yourself.
Several articles indicate that studies show drinkers — even heavy drinkers — outlive people who don’t drink. Most of those studies are large, long-term epidemiological studies though, that never really prove anything. Instead of showing or proving causation they assume a potential correlation between X and Y. Such headlines are generally misleading as they conveniently forget to share the general opinion of most health experts; If you don’t already drink, they recommend you don’t start.
A number of factors (unrelated to actual alcohol consumption) that can reduce the negative effects alcohol can have on your health and fitness are:
robust and resilient genes
a lower-stress personality
a particular lifestyle
good social connections and support
In reality, any physiological effects would vary from person to person though.
How does your alcohol consumption contribute to weight gain?
Consuming alcohol additionally to your current daily calorie intake can lead to weight gain when you are increasing and potentially exceeding your daily maintenance energy intake (landing in a caloric surplus). On the other hand trading your calories from food for a bit of alcohol can (if done on a regular basis) lead to protein malnutrition and muscle loss (when muscle is exposed to ethanol on a regular basis, it decreases in size, also receiving less blood circulation and distorted metabolism), which is also not ideal.
Alcohol can also trick your best judgement to eat more both by volume and calories without noticing it much. Drinks just go so well with most fun foods!
How does alcohol affect your digestion and nutrient absorption?
Long-term regular alcohol consumption can affect your pancreatic digestive and endocrine functions resulting in:
nutrient malabsorption (especially fat and protein absorption)
depleted energy stores
overproduction of lactic acid
Besides, excessive alcohol consumption can also contribute to:
Impaired amino acid uptake
Increased leptin (fullness hormone) and decreased appetite, drop in optimal nutrition
Vitamin deficiency due to decreased liver function
Dehydration due to suppressed ADH
Alcohol and testosterone…
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an increase in aromatase, the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This won’t only lead to lack of gains, but can cause serious endocrine disorders for men and women.
If you aren’t using alcohol there’s no reason to start, but to most of us alcohol is fun with undeniable benefits to be gained. Sharing a laugh while feeling completely relaxed and sipping on something delicious is definitely something I like to consider a contribution to my health and longevity.
If you’re going to drink, drink in moderation and because you genuinely enjoy it and not out of habit, not because you are socially pressured, or simply stressed and tired.
Lastly; what is “moderation”, anyway?
Our ability to process alcohol and therefore what moderation means for us depends on many factors, such as:
our natural individual genetic tolerance
our ethnicity and genetic background (which affects our ability to properly metabolise alcohol)
our body size
our biological sex
our individual combinations of conversion enzymes
In reality though, biochemistry doesn’t matter as much as the core concepts.
Most of us routinely, and more often than not drastically, underestimate our consumption. According to the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, “moderate drinking” means, on average:
For women: up to seven drinks per week, with no more than three drinks on any single day.
For men: up to 14 drinks per week, with no more than four drinks on any single day.
Alcohol can fit into a fun yet functional lifestyle in moderation. If you choose to drink, enjoy it mindfully, ideally among good company.