Having a drink or two can be a great way to relax and to socialise with some of your closest friends and family every now and then. However, alcohol does have a massive effect on how your body works, your goals, be that fat loss or muscle gain, and your body composition. Not least to mention your brain. This can result in a dip in performance whether that's at the gym or in solving problems at work.
Now this isn’t a blog on how you can’t have alcohol ever again to achieve your desired goals, but a blog to guide you on how to manage your expectations when consuming alcohol, how you can help yourself out when consuming alcohol and of course what alcohol does to the body. At the end of this blog, my ambition isn’t to put you off of alcohol per se, but to give you guidance and ideas of what to do when you know you are drinking so we can stay on track of our goals and not lose too much ground, if any!
1) ALCOHOL IS USUALLY JUST EMPTY CALORIES
Alcohol is often referred to as empty calories. Some people misinterpret this for ‘fake calories’ meaning that they don’t need to worry about them or partake in monitoring how much they are consuming. This is false. Empty calories simply mean that they have no nutritional value and offer us no real benefits (apart from a couple of great stories and a raging hangover the next day). Compare them to an over consumption of carbohydrates, where you still have various nutrients, minerals and vitamins from that source of food providing they are nutritious carbs such as potatoes, pasta or rice. If you overeat on healthy fats you’re still getting the nutrients and minerals and of course the cellular protection that fat gives our body, and from overconsumption of protein you get the building blocks of muscle and the thermogenic properties that help to burn fat with protein intake.
2) ALCOHOL IS USED AS A PRIMARY SOURCE OF FUEL
No, this does not mean it can be consumed on a day to day basis or when you have a heavy or difficult session planned for the day. This simply means that alcohol will be your first source of fuel before anything else. You won’t burn any calories from glucose/carbohydrates as it isn’t your preferred energy source – alcohol is. You won’t burn any calories from fat as it isn’t a preferred energy source – alcohol is.
This means that if you are regularly drinking you will not be burning any calories from anything else at first. This includes the food you eat, whether good or bad, and the stored body fat you currently maintain. On top of this, any food you do consume is more likely to be stored as extra energy/calories and therefore increase your ability to store fat. This means that if you have any alcohol in your system, your body isn’t going to touch the surplus body fat or extra stored calories. It’s a lose-lose situation.
3) ALCOHOL IS SEEN AS A POISON AND WILL AFFECT YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM BADLY
Alcohol is seen as a poison to your digestive system and liver, therefore increasing the stress hormone cortisol – which is key to breaking down any lean body mass/muscle and enhancing fat storage. Not good. Speaking of the liver, the liver is essentially your body’s filter that stops all the rubbish from getting in and helps metabolise all the nutrients your body already has stored into effective energy sources. If your liver is preoccupied with the sheer amount of alcohol it is trying to deal with, it is going to be less effective at filtering out all the other bad toxins that it should be working on and less effective at creating fuel sources from the stored fat and carbohydrates, leading to a much harder attempt at building the great physique you want.
The stress to your gut will also reduce digestive enzyme production, therefore making it far harder for your digestive system to break down food properly and consume the important and essential nutrients the food you consume provides, leading to a cascade of problems everywhere else across your body (energy, fat metabolism, muscle protein synthesis etc.) Lastly, a bad gut can send your appetite out of control leading to spurts of binge eating which we all have been guilty of after a night out which results in an increase in fat storage and extra calorie intake as explained above.
4) ALCOHOL NEGATIVELY AFFECTS YOUR HORMONES
Alcohol has been proven to negatively affect your hormones and especially your sex hormones such as testosterone, which is imperative to recovery and muscle repair, building muscle and the ability to burn fat. As alcohol is a toxin, otherwise known as a xenoestrogen, it is also going to negatively affect your oestrogen levels over time. This is going to decrease your drive in the gym, decrease your body’s ability to recover and increase female pattern fat storage (increase in fat in specific areas for women only).
Now of course there are many, many benefits to having a drink such as the social aspect of it, the family side of things especially around important events of the year and of course if you’re quite strict, it’s a good way to relax, but like with everything there is a Yin and a Yang for sure. You will have to manage expectations when drinking regularly and realise it is now a lot tougher to achieve your desired goals.
So, what choices can be made when drinking, to make the best out of a bad (nutritionally of course) situation? Choose spirits over wine or beer. These are lower in calories and can be mixed with low calorie mixers such as gin and soda water or vodka and lime water or lemonade. These choices are far lower in calories.
Enjoy summer, don’t be afraid to have a drink, but manage expectations and enjoy a drink responsibly!