Alcohol – Can you still get results whilst consuming it?

Most people enjoy a drink from time to time, but can you still achieve the results you are after if you enjoy a drink now and again?

A quick note, the approach to this week’s blog is more from a perspective of trying to lose body fat.

Firstly, alcohol contains 7kcal per gram, which after dietary fat (which contains 9 kcals per gram) makes it the second most calorie dense macronutrient. It’s worth noting here that protein contains 4 kcals per gram, and carbs also contain 4 kcal per gram. 

It’s important to be aware of this, as many people don’t consider the calories alcohol contains. On top of which alcohol (like most liquid calories) aren’t very filling. We then have to consider what we often mix with alcoholic drinks, how many we may have in one sitting, and how this may impact our food and even exercise/movement related decisions that night or even into the day after.

If we take a few drinks out on a Friday night as an example, 3 glasses of wine add up to around 477 calories. If we are consuming several glasses of wine a week, it’s easy for these classes to climb to around 1,000 calories or more. Three beers can come in at around 546 calories, again several beers can easily add up to over 1,000 calories. It’s clear to see how several drinks (or more) a week over time, could be the difference between you losing weight, maintaining or even gaining weight. Weight loss comes down to the calorie balance, and in order to lose weight we need to be a calorie deficit, or a negative of calories balance, the risk of us over consuming when we drink could impact this.

It’s not that a couple of drinks on occasion will impact your results, we have to consider if we are drinking frequently how easily these calories can add up across a month. Also, how much drinking may be impacting other factors that may play a role in you achieving your goal. If your goal is weight loss or fat loss, we have to consider the impacts a few drinks has on your food decisions, and also the potential for it to impact your daily movement and likelihood of exercising.

Interestingly one study experimented to see how much alcohol impacts food decisions. A study in women showed that alcohol ingestion led to a greater overall consumption of calories compared to the control group [1]. The alcohol group consumed a higher intake of calorie rich foods, and they reported an increase in appetite. Another study showed that men consumed more food at a buffet after ingesting more alcohol than a control and placebo group [2]. 

Does alcohol cause fat gain?

To answer this question we need some more context, and we have to understand a few factors. When we drink alcohol it enters our bloodstream and is metabolised in the liver. It is then broken down into acetaldehyde and then acetate. This is important, as when acetate is in the blood fat burning is suppressed, and as a result most of the fatty acids in our blood are stored. 

Acetate is then used as a fuel source, and it takes priority over other fuel sources in our bodies. 

What does all of this mean? Well in essence alcohol blocks fat burning. But this is only temporary until it is out of your system. But this doesn’t necessarily mean alcohol causes fat gain, unless it causes you to be consuming more calories than you are expending (a surplus of calories or positive calorie balance) which will lead to fat gain.

But as with everything we have to zoom out and look at the bigger picture, fat gain isn’t determined by one moment in time, and is something we should look at over a longer period of time. One large meal doesn’t cause fat gain, if the rest of the meals in the day compensate for this and control the overall calorie intake. 

One study looked at this in more detail. It looked at the effects of alcohol consumption on fat storage after eating, between different people, when overall calories were matched. The study found that alcohol didn’t lead to greater fat storage over the 20.5 hours studied [3]. Even though like we mentioned earlier it suppresses fat burning for a period of time. Over the course of the day this evened out, and fat storage was the same. 

So to summarise, if you keep your calories in check, and other factors aren’t impacted you won’t gain weight from a few drinks here and there. 

There are strategies that you can adopt such as calorie cycling (which is a strategy we educate our members on) which allows you to be flexible with your calorie intake across the week. This way you can account for social events and still stay on track to achieve your goals. 

Obviously another common strategy used is to opt for lower calorie drinks, one example of this would be:

4 Pints of beer can equal around 728 calories, whereas having 4 single measures of gin with slimline tonics can equal around 224 calories. That’s over 500 calories less.

So, the big question here is, how much value is alcohol adding to your life? And how much of an impact is it having on your goals? As always, moderation is often key.

7 Facts about Diabetes and Alcohol Use

[1] PMID: 20851724

[2] PMID: 11714490

[3] PMID: 8116538

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