By Dan Fischman
As the temperature warms up, and we move into Summer, people are going to start spending more time outside! And what goes better with a cookout or a weekend at the beach? That’s right, a nice cold drink! Everyone has been working their butts off during the winter to get their beach bodies, and now that we are there, how is that alcohol going to affect that new toned body? We are going to look at what exactly alcohol is going to do to your fitness.
The first thing to understand is, just like macro nutrients (Carbs, Fat, and Protein), alcohol carries a caloric value. Carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram; pure dietary fat has a value of 9 calories per gram; Alcohol is 7 calories per gram! What that means is it is almost as many calories as pure fat –and I don’t know anyone who would drink a glass of pure fat– with the bigger negative being that your body has no need for alcohol. The body does not use it, and furthermore, it has to burn off all the alcohol before attempting to break down the other macro nutrients.
When talking about weight loss and weight gain, the most simplistic explanation breaks down to “calories in versus calories out,” meaning if you take in more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight, and if you create a deficit of calories, you will lose weight.
Now, unfortunately life and fitness are not that simple, but that is a conversation for another day. The point is when weight loss is the goal, or even maintenance, taking in extra calories that the body cannot use can definitely become a recipe for weight gain. So, logically you are probably thinking that alcohol cannot be that bad; you can simply compensate for the extra calories by eating less of the other macro nutrients. Again, unfortunately it is not that simple.
The four-step process to break down ethanol is as follows: Ethanol -> Acetaldehyde -> Acetate -> Acetyl-CoA. Why is this chemistry lesson so important? Well, contrary to popular belief it is very hard for the body to store alcohol as fat, but all that extra acetate and acetyl-CoA signals the body (at a cellular level) that no sugar or fat needs to be burned. So instead of being stored as fat, the alcohol suppresses the body’s ability to burn fat. The goal of weight loss is to lose fat; you don’t want to lose bone; you don’t want to lose muscle; and you don’t want to lose water. So even if you are doing everything else right, you don’t want to inhibit and suppress the body’s ability to lose fat.
Another extremely important aspect of weight loss is muscle building. All the studies show that building muscle is the most effective, efficient, and sustainable way to burn fat. Since muscle building is so crucial for fat loss, you would not want to inhibit muscle growth.
Alcohol has the following effects on muscle metabolism:
It raises myostatin (a protein whose function is to inhibit the formation of muscle tissue and muscle cell growth);
It decreases glycogen re-synthesis (replacing glycogen levels in muscle post-workout);
It decreases post-exercise inflammation (which is necessary for recovery);
It suppresses post-exercise mTOR (a protein that regulates cell growth and cell multiplication); and finally,
It impairs insulin and IGF-1 (a hormone necessary for growth, and also creates and anabolic response in the body) signaling.
If you are confused, that is okay. Simply put, this is all extremely bad for muscle growth!
Okay, so now that you have heard the bad, is there any good? There appear to be some studies that show the amount of alcohol consumed can greatly affect the negative consequences of alcohol on muscle. In a study published in Sports Medicine, Matthew J. Barnes gave one group of subjects 1g/kg of alcohol and a second group orange juice. Both groups performed equally taxing workouts, and then their muscular strength was tested 36 and 60 hours after their workout. The alcohol group performed up to 22% worse than the control group.
For a point of reference, an average alcoholic drink (12oz beer, 4-5oz wine, or 1.5oz of liquor) contains 14 g of alcohol. A 180-pound person is about 80kg which means these test subjects had about 5.5 drinks. The bright side is when they re-performed the test at 0.5g/kg of alcohol (that is about 2.25 drinks), the negative effects on muscle growth were greatly decreased. So, in summation it is important to keep alcohol consumption to fewer than three drinks, and further testing has shown that consuming after a workout has far fewer negative effects than consuming before.
So, if you can’t resist that summer drink, here are a few points to remember:
When drinking alcohol at meals, it is better to stay away from carbs and fat; stick to proteins and veggies.
Stay away from mixed drinks, because the alcohol and sugar combination means you are much more likely to store that sugar instead of burning it.
The best time to consume alcohol is after weight training.
Finally, remember moderation is key! A couple of drinks every so often will not torpedo your results, as long as you keep to moderate consumption.
Also, one last point to remember is that alcohol will drain your levels of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium and other micro-nutrients. This lack of vitamins and minerals, over time, can lead to long-latency disease, when the metabolism slows down and suffers due to poor nutrition, so always ensure proper supplementation and diet!
Dan’s journey into fitness began as an overweight youth. Being extremely overweight he took steps to change his life starting with proper nutrition and a little bit of exercise. He attended Clemson University receiving a BS in Management. He spent most of his free time in the rec. center getting hooked on exercise. Upon graduating he moved back to CT and decided to learn everything he could about the fitness industry and how to properly train the human body. He attended The National Personal Training Institute receiving a diploma in personal training and nutrition consultation. After NPTI he participated in a 4 month mentorship to learn the intricacies of training athletes. This is where he found his passion! He has spent the last 4 years training athletes, of all ages. He has extensive experience training athletes from middle-school all the way to the pros, in all sports! He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, CSCS, through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is also has an Advanced Certified Personal Trainer (A-CPT) certification, and is currently working on his Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator certification.