In the fitness industry alcohol can be a little more controversial and confusing. We all know that a lot is bad, but can even a few standard drinks on the weekend undo all the hard work we have put in the week before at the gym?
Alcohol And Fat Loss
The biggest problem people have with alcohol is its effects on fat loss. Most will assume that it's a no brainer that alcohol makes you fat, but surprisingly things aren't that simple.
Alcohol or (ethanol) is technically a macronutrient. Like protein, carbs and fat, alcohol contains calories. It is the second most energy dense macronutrient behind fat. Here is a breakdown of macronutrients and their calories:
- Carbs: 4 calories per gram.
- Protein: 4 calories per gram.
- Alcohol: 7 calories per gram.
- Fat: 9 calories per gram.
Unlike the other macronutrients, it's no essential. Alcohol or ''ethanol'' is viewed as a toxin by the body, as it can't use it as fuel. When you consume alcohol, your body stops burning fat to prioritise burning the calories from the alcohol. This means that fat burning ceases and this causes fat to be stored much easier.
This is problematic because alcohol doesn't have an effect on satiety (it doesn't make you feel ''full''). Alcohol, as we well know, affects our decision making and impulse control. This is why after a night drinking most people end up at 3 am with four cheeseburgers. It is more likely the combination of this and alcohols ability to stop fat burning and all the calories that come with it that causes fat gain, not just alcohol itself.
Because alcohol is 'toxic' your body burns more calories oxidising it. The calorie content of alcohol ends up being somewhere closer to 5 calories per gram as opposed to 7 when you take this into consideration.
Alcohol And Your Health
While we know excess alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on our health and bank accounts, moderate alcohol consumption seems to have no adverse effects at all. Quite the contrary.
Research show's that people who consume alcohol moderately, live longer than those that don't. There are also studies that show moderate alcohol consumption can stave off modern diseases including cancer and depression.
This is by no means an endorsement for drinking alcohol. But regarding your health, the odd beer or wine isn't going to have an adverse impact on it.
Alcohol And Hormones
One area that people get concerned with alcohol is its effects on hormones, specifically testosterone. One study showed that men who consumed the equivalent of around three beers a day, every day for three weeks had a 6.8% decrease in testosterone levels.
Although, another study showed that having the equivalent of around five beers post workout (not the best post workout nutrition) had no adverse impact on testosterone levels in the five hours after the workout.
The practical takeaways from this: if you have three or four drinks on the weekend it's not going to impact your testosterone levels negatively. Don't take this to mean that a few ten ounces are a good post workout option, though, despite what David Boon might tell you.
Alcohol And Recovery
Bizarrely enough moderate alcohol consumption doesn't seem to have a significant impact on recovery from strength training or endurance training either. The main impact that alcohol does have on exercise recovery and performance is that it dehydrates you.
One of my favourite sayings when it comes to nutrition is ''the Devils in the dose''. Alcohol's no different. If you have a couple of standard drinks a week in a controlled manner and don't binge, it's not going to impact on your fitness goals negatively. The issues come when you start abusing it and consume too much, too often.
With that said, if you are about to compete in any type of competition like bodybuilding, powerlifting or are seriously dieting, alcohol is not something I would recommend being included in your diet. If you don't have anything like this going on, the odd drink on the weekend is fine and will have no adverse effects on your recovery from exercise, your testosterone production and won't turn you obese overnight.