Let’s be honest here: even those fully dedicated to their fitness goals can find themselves yielding to the temptation of a drink (or two or a dozen of them).
We know that alcohol can be an excellent social lubricant. What we know equally well is that it can derail fitness goals. That’s why weight loss “gurus” and “get ripped now” programs often forbid alcohol.
The good news? Your fat loss efforts don't have to go to waste because you occasionally like to grab a drink.
This article will tell you why alcohol can be fattening, and what you can do to counter its harmful effects on your body.
Alcohol is often claimed to be extremely fattening. That is, however, untrue. The likelihood of alcohol being stored in your body as fat is very low.
In fact, alcohol is much less likely to be stored as fat than the other three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat).
The reason is that acetate – the chemical into which alcohol gets broken down in your liver – is a toxic substance.
Your body does not want to store something toxic. That’s why acetate gets burned or released through other pathways once it enters your bloodstream. As a result, less than 5% of alcohol get stored as fat.
While alcohol isn’t likely to cause fat gain directly, it can wreak havoc on your body shape in an indirect manner. Why so?
First off, alcohol contains calories – 7 calories per gram, to be exact. And since alcohol is consumed in liquid form (which is less satiating than solid foods) and drinks often get paired with (junk) food, alcohol consumption typically results in a high calorie intake.
So, alcohol itself isn’t likely to get stored as fat, but the extra calories you eat certainly are. This is especially true for calories from fat, as we’ll see later.
In other words, while your body is busy burning the alcoholic calories from your drinks, the (fat) calories you consume are likely to end up as fat.
Second, alcohol decreases fat burning while increasing fat storage. The reason is that your body will burn the toxic acetate (alcohol) first.
So, when you drink, the fatty acids in your bloodstream are likely stored, while the ability of your body to burn body fat for fuel is impaired.
Third, alcohol increases nitrogen excretion, meaning you’ll be prone to muscle loss. That’s one of the reasons why heavy drinkers often sport a “skinny fat” look.
If you want to slim down, abstaining from alcohol is obviously the best choice. Fortunately, you don’t have to live as a hermit to shed unwanted pounds.
While drinking is unhealthy and negatively affects your fitness results, you can significantly reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on your body shape if you approach it right.
The following are four powerful ways to consume alcohol while staying on track with your fat loss efforts.
Side note: The tips outlined below do not reduce the toxic effects of alcohol on your health.
1. Slash the Calories
The best way to minimise the damaging effects of alcohol is by maintaining a calorie deficit on the day you drink.
If there are no excessive calories in your bloodstream, you’re less prone to storing fat. After all, your body can’t store what’s not available.
If you’re aiming to drop fat, you should be in a negative energy balance anyways. But if you’re on a maintenance or weight gain program, you’ll have to reduce the calories on the day you drink.
It’s important to factor the calories from alcohol into your daily energy intake. This means you must plan your alcohol intake in advance – both the drinks you will consume and the amount.
Since one gram of alcohol contains 7 calories and a standard drink in Australia holds 10 grams of "pure" alcohol, there are generally 70 calories from alcohol in one drink.
Besides, alcoholic drinks usually contain calories from other macronutrients as well, typically in the form of sugar. Add those to your daily calorie intake too.
2. Minimise Fat Consumption
As we’ve already seen, alcohol promotes fat storage. However, your body cannot store what’s not available.
So, if you keep your fat intake low on the day you drink, you’ll significantly reduce the fat gaining effects of alcohol.
Besides, fat oxidation is lowered when you drink alcohol, so your body would use less fat for fuel anyway.
To counterbalance this lowered fat intake, increase your carb consumption.
But hold on, won't your body convert the extra carbs to body fat? The answer is no: if you're in a negative energy balance (which you must be if you want to lose fat), your body can't do this effectively.
Instead, the carbs will either be deposited in your glycogen stores or used for energy.
3. Up Your Protein Intake
As already mentioned, not only does alcohol affect your fat loss agenda, but it can also interfere with your muscles. Why? Because alcohol increases nitrogen secretion, which means you’ll be more prone to muscle waste.
To offset this, maintain a high protein intake on the days you drink. Get at least 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 75 kilos, consume a minimum of 150 grams of protein.
Not only will a sufficient protein intake prevent muscle loss, but it will also keep your calorie intake under control.
The reason lies in the satiating powers of protein. Protein reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin while raising satiety hormones cholecystokinin, Peptide YY, and GLP-1.
That’s why a higher protein intake automatically leads to a decreased total calorie consumption.
So, you’ll be less likely to indulge in the high-calorie fast food that usually accompanies alcohol drinking. Plus, you’ll have an easier time maintaining your calorie deficit.
4. Choose Wisely
Alcoholic drinks are usually calorie-rich for two reasons. First off, every gram of alcohol contains 7 calories.
As mentioned before, a standard drink in Australia contains 10 grams of alcohol, which equals 70 calories.
Besides, most drinks are also rich in calories from other macros, usually carbs (sugar).
Fortunately, you can cut a huge number of calories by choosing the right drinks.
The worst offenders are cocktails. One 265ml Pina Colada contains 490 calories on average! That’s more energy than most people burn by running for 60 minutes.
Beer is another high-calorie drink to avoid (or at least cut back on). One beer contains an average of 150 calories.
This means that seven beers stuff 1,050 calories into your body - more than half of the daily recommended calorie intake for an adult female.
If you don’t want to change your beer drinking habits, consider switching to light beer. It contains roughly one-third fewer calories - an average of 100 per drink.
The best options when it comes to getting the most alcohol for the fewest calories are shots and straight booze.
Other body shape-friendly options are red and white wine. One glass sets you up for roughly 100 to 120 calories. That’s in case you're served a standard 5-ounce glass because people tend to over-pour by an average of 12%.
5. Prepare a Low-Calorie Snack
Alcohol stimulates appetite, especially for high-fat, salty foods. That’s why a night out drinking often goes paired with French fries, burritos, pizza, and other drunk foods. Unfortunately, this combination sets you up for consuming hundreds if not thousands of extra calories.
So instead, prepare a low-calorie snack or meal for when you're back home (or wherever you end up).
Examples are grilled chicken with veggies or a Greek yogurt with blueberries.
Soups are also great because they're low in calories and help replenish lost liquids and sodium. (After all, alcohol acts diuretic.)
Alcohol can stimulate fat gain in two ways. Firstly off, alcohol contains calories – 7 of them per gram. Besides, alcohol impairs fat burning while increasing fat storage.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prevent alcohol from derailing your fat loss efforts.
Those include slashing your calorie and fat intake on the day you drink, upping your protein consumption, choosing low-calorie alcoholic drinks, and preparing a low-calorie snack before going out.