The Straight Truth About Alcohol and Fitness
Pssst. Wanna know a secret? I love wine.
But don’t tell anyone or they’ll take my Dietitian card away faster than you can say “Chardonnay."
Its fun to joke about the shocking untold truths about how fitness experts, nutritionists, and trainers will eat things that are unthinkable such as ice cream, hamburgers, and even drink *gasp* ALCOHOL!
If you’ve been following me at all you know that I advocate and preach a balanced approach to eating that includes pleasure foods in moderation to make your diet/eating habits a lifestyle that is SUSTAINABLE.
One aspect of this that often gets pushed into the shadows and treated as if it’s an unmentionable is alcohol. Right away, I’m sure some of you are getting images of beer bellies and Merlot-induced muffin tops, but whats the real story here? Is it possible to enjoy alcohol while still making progress towards your fitness goals?
The short answer: Yes (Hooray! Pop the champagne!)
But as I’m sure you know, that when there’s a short answer, there’s a long answer. So lets dive into the pros and cons of alcohol and look at how to include it (if you’d like) into your nutrition lifestyle.
Taste: WINE! Beer! Cocktails! SoOoOo many flavors to enjoy (in moderation)!
Relaxation: A great aspect of alcohol (in moderation) is the assist in reducing feelings of stress and improving relaxation!
Health benefits: Red Wine (in moderation) in particular has antioxidants and several other heart healthy elements! Some studies even show a 25% or improvement in major risk factors for heart disease. 1
Calories: The problem here is that alcohol is what we’d consider “empty calories”, in other words, it’s almost like eating candy. You don’t get much in terms of nutrients that aid your body in becoming stronger or more healthy. Also, because of the fact that alcohol is derived from sugar, the calorie density of alcohol is pretty high. 100 calories for that ounce of Gin is a steep price to pay.
Nutrient priority: I’ll try to keep this from being too nerdy, but when you drink alcohol, your body basically deals with it as it would deal with poison, so the body says “whoah whoah whoah, stop everything and take care of this alcohol”. Which means the body processes alcohol before it will process anything else, which often disrupts the digestion of other things you’ve eaten or will eat around the time you ingest alcohol. Which means in a lot of cases that carbs, fats, and proteins aren’t used the way we want them to be (building muscle, fueling recovery, prepping for action), and instead are stored as fat until the body can clear the alcohol from it’s system.
Hormones: Not as big a deal for us ladies, but for men, alcohol can halt testosterone production pretty quickly until the booze is cleared from the body. This affects energy, fat burning abilities, and muscle growth and can really set back you guys’ results from all that hard work in the gym. For us ladies this is not an excuse to go buck wild and dive headfirst into that Pinot. There are many other reasons to maintain a moderate mindset with alcohol…
Inhibition: This is why Taco Bell started staying open till midnight. People who stay out having a great time drinking end up getting munchies and their inhibition goes out the window. Sure, you’ve been doing great with your meal plans and workouts and eating clean. But now you’ve got a couple margaritas in ya and you’re ready to fight someone for a cheesy gordita crunch. Sound familiar? At any rate, the bottom line is that alcohol affects your brain and in large quantities can help you make a plethora of bad decisions, oftentimes including eating weird junk at weird hours in weird quantities.
Sleep disturbance. Yep, you’ve probably heard or felt it before, but alcohol keeps your body from getting that deep zen sleep that’s necessary for fitness gains. 1Can be associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. 1
This list makes it look like I’m trying to dump a huge list of CONS on you about alcohol. It’s not my intent to rain on your parade or sneeze in your daiquiri. I like alcohol and really enjoy having a drink with good friends, especially when celebrating something. But it’s important to understand what is going into our bodies, and my point to all this is to say that just like any treat - we need to view alcohol as something that can be enjoyed in moderation while not waylaying us from our goals. So if you’re going to partake, I suggest be strategic about it. Plan and track how much you’re going to have, organize your workouts and meals to reduce the negative impacts of alcohol. And most importantly, when you have that drink, make sure you enjoy it because you EARNED that reward, because nothing tastes or feels better than victory.
I have to slip in a little pitch here: if you are unsure of where on the scale of light ---> heavy your alcohol consumption is and would like to work with me as a Dietitian and Personal Trainer to ensure you’re taking care of your body. I want to work with you and help you find that sustainable balance. Let's work together!
Cheers to your health!
P.S. If you’re reading this, I assume you already have a favorite beverage of choice, but if you’d like to try my favorite summer mocktail, try this one!
Grønbæk, M. 2009. The Positive and Negative Health Effects of Alcohol‐ and the Public Health Implications. The Journal of Medicine. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2009.02082.x
Ishii, H., Okuno, F., Joly, J. G., & Tsuchiya, M. 1978. October. Alcohol induced changes of carbohydrate metabolism [author's transl]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/703466
Alcohol and its Effects on Metabolism. 2017. Medical Weight Loss Clinic. Retrieved from http://mwlc.com/news/alcohol-and-its-effects-on-metabolism/
Women who are or may be pregnant and those who are breastfeeding should not consume alcohol. For everyone else, as always, be sure to consult your physician (and dietitian) to find out if alcohol is safe for you.