Friday, May 7, 2010

Does Alcohol Make You Fat?

Thank God it's Friday. You have been eating healthy all week, the person at the front desk at the gym now knows you by name, and you are pretty proud of yourself as you notice you have dropped a couple of pounds and are well and truly on your way to achieving your target weight. But work was rough, you put in some crazy hours and your boss displays the intelligence of a Real World contestant, so you are in need of a stiff drink and some socializing. But did you know that your favorite Friday night cocktail or beer could totally derail all that hard work and effort you put into your diet during the week?

Yes, we all love a drink. Some of us more than others...I'm having flash backs from a few weeks ago that involved a stripper, a five dollar bill, and my friends blindfolding me and pushing me up on top of the don't want to know how that ended. But needless to say that night involved a lot of alcohol and me waking up in the morning with a splitting headache, a bruised nose, and about as dehydrated as Amy Winehouse's weave. But whilst drinking may make you feel rotten the following day, that's the least of your worries. Turns out that when you consume alcohol, even a small amount of it, your body stops burning fat and actually goes into a fat storage mode because it contains what's known as 'empty calories".

We all know what a calorie is. Its a measurement of energy a certain food or beverage provides us. But not all calories are the same, and whilst some calories are good, nutritional and beneficial for our body's fat loss and muscle building efforts, there are bad, empty calories that when consumed provide no nutritional value whatsoever and get stored as fat or are so refined that they do more damage to our bodies than good. Turns out alcohol is an empty calorie. Sigh. Whilst it may make you the life of the party, and make it easier to ask that hottie for their number when the bar is closing, it contains no beneficial nutrients, vitamins or minerals. Check it out.

Nutrients differ in the amount of calories, but alcohol is the one of the highest per gram.

Per Gram                    Amount of Calories
Carbohydrates                           4
Protein                                      4
Fat                                            9
Alcohol                                      7

How does this translate? Well if you eat a meal that contains 30 grams of carbohydrates, you have just consumed 120 calories. If you drink 30 grams of alcohol, which is roughly two bears or two 1.5 shots of vodka, you will consume in comparison 210 calories. Well that doesn't sound so bad does it? But who stops at one drink? Whilst 210 calories here comes from the alcohol, it isn't factoring in the calories from your mixer. Lets take a look at the total calories in some of our favorite social lubricants;

Drink                            Calories
Vodka Soda                      76
Bloody Mary                      90
Merlot                               92
Amstel Light                      95
Champagne                       95
Chardonnay                      120
Cosmopolitan                   150
Mojito                              160
Vodka Cranberry               172
Vodka Redbull                  177
Vodka Martini                   210
Daiquiri                            422
Margarita                          740
Long Island Iced Tea         780

Ouch. Pretty scary knowing that margarita you just enjoyed has more calories than a Big Mac. In fact you could add a small order of french fries to that to get roughly the same caloric equivalent.

Your body can't store alcohol, so burns it as quickly as it can for energy, so any food you may have consumed that day which was supposed to be used as energy, gets pushed aside to make way for the alcohol. Where does it get pushed aside to? Your fat cells!  Once it hits your stomach, alcohol isn't broken down as well as proteins, carbs and fats, and whilst we do metabolize a small portion of it, the majority of it goes straight into your blood stream. Ever wonder why women can't drink as much as men? Well women lack the enzyme our bodies use to break down the alcohol, so they can only metabolize 10% of the alcohol, whilst men can metabolize around 30%. Now all those girls falling off the chairs at the pizza place at 3am is starting to make sense.

Speaking of pizza, If that's not enough bad news, it turns out alcohol acts as an appetite stimulant, making you feel hungry and ravenous and causing you to inhale those two large pieces of greasy pepperoni pizza on your way home from the bar. It may sound like a good idea at the time, but if you take that there are 300 calories in each slice of that pizza, combined with the four of five drinks you had (lets be conservative here) at 200 calories per drink, then in the space of a few hours you could have consumed close to 1400 calories. That's a day worth of calories for a female and nearly three quarters for a male on a fat loss diet.

Maybe you are a little health conscious and go for the low calorie option, such as the vodka soda (my personal favorite) or a light beer thinking it wont affect your diet or fat loss efforts, and it won't to an extent. You can still enjoy a couple of these lower calorie alcoholic drinks and not have to sign up for fat fighters. But it turns out that consumption of alcohol can interfere with your fat burning hormones and signals your body to not only to start to deposit fat, but deposit it in the areas we least like them - abdomen for men, and hips and thighs for women.

Remember when you were growing up and you would go to family BBQs or picnics, and there would always be a relative or a friend of your dad's that always had a beer in his hand a belly so big you thought Christmas had come early? That's called beer belly. And whilst we have used the term loosely and humorously over the years, scientists have now discovered why people who drink have them. Alcohol interferes with the glands that release hormones, messing up your blood sugar levels and therefore insulin production, whilst also reducing your testosterone and consequently increasing your estrogen levels. What does that mean? Well increased estrogen in males increases fat deposits around the abdomen, decreases your sexual drive and function making you a flop in bed (literally) and causes the formation of beast tissue, or so lovingly known as "man boobs". In women it creates irregular menstrual cycles and cycles without ovulation.

For bodybuilders or guys out there who are wanting to get some rock hard biceps and pecs like the dudes on the cover of Men's Health magazine, you might want to rethink that pitcher or beer also. Not only do the increases in estrogen interfere with your ability to build muscle, alcohol stops your muscles from recovering properly after a hard workout and reduces protein synthesis causing you to lose strength. It dehydrates you and your muscles, making all that money you spend on creatine products practically pointless.

Now before you start throwing you empty margarita glasses at me, or before I start losing all my friends on facebook and getting dirty looks across the bar when I head out tonight, I'm by now means trying to be Debbie Downer and telling you that you can never drink again. God knows if you told me I could never drink again I would grab my cocktail shaker and throw it at you...after I had guzzled what's inside of course. Because let's face it, we all benefit from the personality effects of alcohol sometimes.

So what's a health conscious drinker to do? Well when drinking, chose lower calorie options such as Vodka soda with lime, a light beer, or rum and diet coke, and avoid the sugar laden, fat inducing effects of some of the cocktails like margaritas, or ask for them with sugar free mixers. Always drink in moderation  or you well and truly will be "rolling" out of the bar at 2am, not because you are drunk but because your mid section will start to resemble that of the Michelin man.

Healthy Boy x


  1. Good point, I swapped from having a couple of glasses of wine at night to drinking vodka soda instead a year or so ago and found a huge difference.

    Not only did it help me get leaner it also had other benefits as well like sleeping better and feeling fresher in the morning.

    What I didn't realise was that white wine is not just alcohol but also all that sugar that was interrupting my sleep patterns.

    And I also realised that by drinking a huge glass of soda which a splash of vodka I was also drinking much more water which meant if I did have a big dinner party I was no longer drinking nearly as much alcohol and not becoming dehydrated

    BTW - I tried the silica on your recommendation and have definitely noticed a difference in my skin, now to see if it helps the hair!

  2. When I read about the evils of drinkng alcohol.. I decided to give up reading.

    Okay, I promise from now on I will only consume margaritas while on an eliptical machine.

    Thank God the Sex and the City sequel is coming out.. I can have cosmos again. With no sugar added cranberry juice of course.

  3. Finally, something that will hopefully get my roommates to stop drinking to the point where that can't remember a thing the next morning... hopefully...

  4. What's your take on drinking a whiskey, it must be one of the "healthiest" options

  5. Tougher when you hit 60. It's a fight over which you want more alcohol or food; end result, both... in great quantities!

  6. Did you already see the video "Glass Walls" of Paul McCartney?


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