The Science Behind Alcohol & How to Limit its Damage!
Alcohol is a part of the majority of adults lives regardless of age. While there is literally no nutritional benefit of drinking, it is unrealistic to tell people to completely eliminate it from their lives in order to get in shape. As with anything, moderation needs to be the focus. In this guide, we will discuss some background on alcohol and its role in weight loss and/or performance. Lastly, we provide a list of low calorie alcoholic beverages, a tracking strategy and a few extra tips to help you enjoy without worrying about going backwards in the gym!
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THE SCIENCE: Alcohol’s Effect on Fitness
Disclaimer: While many negative effects of alcohol will be discussed, it is worth noting that many of these issues arise with chronic (or at least somewhat regular) alcohol consumption.
Just as protein, carbs & fat, alcohol contains calories and has metabolic requirements for digestion. In fact, alcohol is a significant contributor to caloric intake, with 7 calories per gram. This alone should show why alcohol seemingly leads to such dramatic weight gain.
NOTE: While alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, you must keep in mind the extra calories (consisting of primarily carbs) that mixers such as sprite, coke & cranberry juice can add!
For a simplified idea of metabolism & alcohol’s role, think of it the following way. As alcohol is consumed, the metabolism of protein, carbs & fat are ALL put on hold and the focus of the body is shifted to metabolizing (getting rid of) that newly digested alcohol. Now why can’t the body just metabolize the other nutrients at the same time as alcohol? Well, since there is no nutritional value associated with alcohol & the substance is toxic in high amounts, the body puts the alcohol on a pedestal in a sense! It quickly becomes the #1 priority because protein, carbs and fat can be handled later on. Due to this, fat loss is put on a temporary hold until the alcohol is metabolized and the body can start breaking down fat again.
Effects on Athletic Performance
As you may know, hydration status plays a huge role in performance. Being dehydrated as little as 3-4% can affect strength, appearance and endurance. Unfortunately, alcohol is a big player in dehydration. It quite literally acts just like a diuretic.
Alcohol Inhibits antidiuretic hormone (ADH). As a response to this inhibition, alcohol leads to increased losses of water via urine output. While each gram of alcohol only leads to a slight bit of dehydration, after a long night out drinking, it adds up quickly!
A good rule to combat the dehydration effect of alcohol is for every alcoholic beverage, drink 1-2 glasses of water to compensate for the water and electrolyte loss. (Yes, I know this is much easier said than done)
Along with dehydration, alcohol can destroy recovery. If you consume alcohol on a day that you trained, muscle protein synthesis is reduced significantly. Along with this, studies have shown 10%+ reductions in force output. For perspective, supplement consumption usually makes about a 2% difference (in a positive way) so 10% is pretty extreme!
One last major side effect of alcohol consumption that men typically care about is that it is linked to testosterone. Studies have directly correlated alcohol consumption to a decrease in overall testosterone. Now this is absolutely detrimental because testosterone is the main anabolic hormone in males. Whether you are trying to lose fat or gain muscle, a decrease in your testosterone production will NEVER be beneficial and is just one more reason to be careful when thinking of your overall alcohol consumption.
HOW TO TRACK ALCOHOL
As you likely know by now, consistency > accuracy. You are never gonna get it perfect when tracking food and the same goes for alcohol. However, this is the strategy I believe is most useful:
For each drink, subtract the calories from either your carb or fat allowance.
For example: You get a bud light which is 110 calories per bottle. To subtract the calories from carbs, do the following:
110 calories/4 (calories/g of carbs) → 27.5g of carbs
Another example is, you are drinking a Blue Moon which is 165 calories. To subtract the calories from fat, do the following:
165 calories/ 9 (calories/g of carbs) → 18.3g of fat
Whether you chip into your carb or fat allowance is your call! Generally, we prefer to subtract alcohol calories from my carb allowance.
Liquor (1.5oz serving)
Gin → 110 Calories
Whiskey → 96 Calories
Tequila → 96 Calories
Vodka → 93 Calories
Rum → 86 Calories
Samuel Adams Cream Stout → 190 Calories
Blue Moon Belgian White → 164 Calories
Bud Light → 110 Calories
Miller Lite → 96 Calories
LOW CALORIE OPTIONS:
Captain Diet (12oz serving)
Captain Morgan & Diet Coke
Calorie Content: 170 Calories
Jack & Diet (12oz serving)
Jack Daniels & Diet Coke
Calorie Content: 195 Calories
Vanilla Vodka & Diet Club Soda (12oz serving)
Vodka & Diet Coke (or other diet drink)
Calorie Content: 260 Calories
To keep calories at a minimum, order drinks “neat” and/or ask for diet soda mixers. Seltzer water is also a good option for mixers!
Avoid beer when possible, they are generally calorically dense & carb heavy.
If drinking wine, remember that lighter colored wines are lower in calories than dark color wines.
Plan ahead! Let's be honest, tracking your alcohol intake is not easy so if you know you are going out… alter your diet accordingly!
Moderation is key! A night out every once in a while will not be detrimental but if you are constantly consuming tons of liquid calories and are hungover the next day… your progress is going to severely suffer!
To limit dehydration, drink 1-2 glasses of water per alcoholic drink you drink!
Try to limit alcohol consumption on training days due to its direct effect on limiting MPS.