Let's Talk About Alcohol
I am going to assume that the title of this post is about to draw a good bit of people in, because who doesn’t love a good adult beverage?? I definitely enjoy a glass (or 3..) of wine, a nice cold beer, and a perfectly mixed cocktail; and there are times when enjoying these in moderation may not always occur(cue hangover). The purpose of this post is to talk about alcohol and your goals.
To keep this as simple as possible I am going to talk about 3 possible goals someone may have. Goal #1 fat/weight loss, Goals #2 muscle building, Goal #3 top athletic/sport performance. Now you may be reading these goals and be saying to yourself that these goals don’t apply to you. Maybe these 3 aren’t your number one goal, but one of these 3 are very likely closely related to your main goal, which in most cases may be improved health and better relationship with food. Whether these 3 goals directly or indirectly apply to you, please continue to read because you might just learn something or may know someone who would benefit from reading this. So please stick with me.
Goal #1: Fat/weight Loss-
If your goal is to lose some fat and lower your weight alcohol can be a speed bump in this process. All of those beverages advertised as “low carb” or “low calorie”, while on the nutrition label may show that there are less carbs than the comparable drink, the ABV content is not being considered. Macronutrients are the foods we take in that supply a caloric value to our diets; and believe it or not alcohol is our 4th macronutrient. Just so happens that alcohol supplies calories to our diets without supplying any nutrients, so the ultimate empty calorie item. There are 7 calories/gram of alcohol consumed. This does not mean carbs in the drink, but solely how much alcohol is in the beverage (enter ABV). This means that when you are monitoring your calories while trying to lose weight and are accounting for the nutrition label calories you might be underestimating how many calories you are taking in per beverage. Another pesky detail is that your body will place metabolizing alcohol in your system first and the food consumed during this time may not be metabolized fully and thus end up being stored as fat when there is excess.
Goal #2: Gain/build Muscle-
Two main issues when it comes to alcohol and muscle building is: 1. Alcohol dehydrates you and this directly impacts your muscles, 2. Alcohol messes with protein synthesis and thus inhibits muscle growth. When something is dehydrated it shrinks, so when you consume alcohol and are dehydrated your muscles become less stretchy and a bit ‘dried out’. This can lead to higher susceptibility to injury of muscles, which would then lead to the dreaded rest/rehab period. Protein synthesis is a process in your body that involves the breakdown and rebuilding of muscle in your body. If this process is impacted your body will not create new protein and thus not be able to build larger, stronger muscles.
Goal #3: Top Athletic/sport performance-
Like I said before alcohol dehydrates you and I am sure you have all heard that athletics and dehydration are not a good combo. Dehydration like I said above can lead to possible injury, it also impacts the nervous system, and studies have shown marked performance decreases in individuals participating in their sport compared to their hydrated counterpart. Beyond dehydration (I hate to break it to you) alcohol stays in your system longer than you think. Unfortunately for females, we have a smaller amount of the alcohol metabolizing enzyme compared to men, so we don’t metabolize alcohol as quickly. This means we will feel the effects of alcohol longer than a male of the same height and weight as ourselves. Head on over to this link from the NCAA to read some other impacts of alcohol on performance. And yes, it is true, and not just the NCAA scare tactic to keep college kids from partying all the time. In addition to all of the above said effects of alcohol on fat loss, metabolism, and protein synthesis, alcohol will also impact hormones, sleep, and decision making. All of these things can impact sports/athletic performance.
Now don’t take this as me telling you to cut out alcohol, because I am surely not going to stop drinking my wine and mules after saying this. I am simply sharing some knowledge I have so that you all can make more informed and conscious decisions the next time you head to happy hour with some friends or open that bottle of wine or beer as you sit down to dinner. Planning ahead, moderation, and consideration of where you are at in regard to your goals are all important when it comes to any decision you make with your health.