ALCOHOL AND FAT LOSS
Updated: Feb 6
Welcome back to another edition of the Fat Loss series! 🔥
If you've been avidly reading along and enjoying the Fat Loss series so far, good for you!
If you're ready for another entry and more knowledge & education, let's drive back in!
We know incorporating a 'balanced' diet helps dramatically improve overall adherence, health and further aid in results. However, there is still one 'nutrient' left which is most often left unaccounted for when living a balanced lifestyle. Alcohol.
ON ALCOHOL. 🤔
Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories
The key with alcohol like most things is keeping it minimal or in 'moderation'. As Alcohol contains 7 kcals per gram, it's not too difficult to over consume on it especially during festive occasions. Alcohol is also calorie dense being just slightly behind Dietary Fats (9 kcals per gram).
Alcohol is known to have a complex social role in today's society. Most Australians generally consume alcohol on a weekly or even daily basis for social engagement & relaxation at moderately 'safe' levels.
For a substantial group of individuals however, alcohol is also consumed at levels which increase the likelihood of alcohol related harm.
Other variables (alcohol aside) in the average Australian diet is not getting enough daily nutrients i.e. Protein, Fibre, Micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals).
We know food nutrients such as Carbohydrates are converted to Glycogen or Glucose for fuel as a primary fuel source for the body. Dietary fats can also be converted to ketones by the liver as an alternate fuel source in extreme circumstances (more on this in a later piece).
Alcohol (ethanol) however is metabolized and processed by several pathways other than food[2,3]. When consumed it is mainly oxidized to a toxic carcinogen substance 'acetaldehyde'. Next, it is further metabolized to a less active by product ''acetic acid', being lastly excreted or eliminated in urine.
However, to determine whether Alcohol is detrimental requires further context.
Alcohol and Fat Loss.
A Look at Past Studies:
According to the current research, consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol appears to be 'safe' for most individuals looking to manage their weight.
How safe? Here's a quick breakdown according to past studies:
A past study with 2 groups were placed on a calorie deficit of 1500kcals per day. 1 group with 10% of calories from alcohol (wine) the other sugar (grape juice). Interestingly enough subjects on both sides experienced similar weight decreases in LBM, bodyfat waist circumference, blood pressure, blood glucose, insulin, tryglycerides and cholesterol.🍾
Another study placed participants in an overall 20 week trial. In the first 10 weeks participants consumed 190ml of alcohol (wine) over a 5 day week whilst the remaining 10 week period they did not. Calories were also equated. No weight changes were observed during the course of the trial. 🍷
When comparing energy intake and hunger after 0, 1 and 4 units of alcohol. It was also found that 4 units of alcohol increased energy intake and hunger whilst 0 and 1 units did not. We can deduce of a certain alcoholic 'threshold' where alcohol can increase appetite and food intake🍟. Munchies anyone?
A recent study examined whether frequent to moderate beer consumption had effects on body composition in conjunction with H.I.I.T. 2 randomized groups were also divided (👉Non-Training group / 👉HIIT training group) whilst the training group received alcohol (firstname.lastname@example.org% alcohol) or the equivalent alcohol (vodka + sparkling water), the non-alcohol group received alcohol-free beer (0.0%) or sparkling water.
The study's results found no differences in:
👉🏼Bone Mineral density 👉Visceral Adipose tissue By contrast, in all the training groups, significant decreases in fat mass were recorded together with increases in lean mass. However, the positive effects were not influenced by the regular intake of beer or alcohol. but rather total calorie intake.
Based off this research, consuming a certain amount of calories from alcohol is shown to minimally impact certain performance markers where a certain alcoholic unit 'threshold' is met. A moderate beer or alcohol intake may or may not positively effect your training or body composition unless certain parameters and variables are met.
On alcohol and it's effects on muscle protein synthesis (MPS) however, there are observable changes in the myofibrillar architecture (cellular proteins). As the rates of protein synthesis (muscle building) and protein degradation (muscle loss) is depressed after acute alcohol intoxication or chronic alcohol ingestion, the dynamic balance of proteins becomes compromised by ethanol consumption.
A greater consumption of calories from alcohol can negatively impact numerous health markers and also lead to intoxication. High to excessive intakes of alcohol i.e. >5 drinks or greater has been shown to reduce testosterone, impede fat oxidation, & impair anabolic signaling.
Based off the research we can deduce consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol bares little to no negative impact on:
Weight / Fat Loss
Insulin / Cholesterol levels
Blood pressure / Tryglycerides
If Protein, Fibre and Calories are equated for[1,11].
Note: whilst there is some slight variability in individual metabolism and timing, the affect of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from any given number of drinks can still cause substantial metabolic impairment well after alcohol has been metabolized in the body.[8,9,16]
ALCOHOL VS PERFORMANCE?
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, the risk of alcohol harm increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. As more alcohol is consumed, metabolic inhibiting processes decrease whilst risk of injury increases alongside associated acute behavior.
On the context of cognitive performance, there does appear to be an association between alcohol and the acute effects from increased alcoholic consumption. As blood alcohol levels rise, cognitive function, metabolic processes and psycho-motor performance also decreases rapidly.
Research also shows excessive alcohol consumption appears to reduce MPS (muscle protein synthesis). Specifically, over a period of 12 hours opposing contraction-induced changes aka muscle building gains. In other words, if you're looking to optimally build muscle you'll want to limit your alcohol consumption completely in and around training.
For healthy individuals following drinking guidelines advocated by the National Medical Health and research council of i.e. 1-2 standard drinks per day may not necessarily need to modify their alcohol intake.
Competitive individuals i.e. athletes will almost always need to follow a 'balanced' approach to ensure they remain 'on track' with performance, strength and/or conditioning biomarkers.
Note: Athletes in training or competing need to always budget or limit an allowance towards their Alcohol intake for ongoing optimal results. This is paramount for Recovery, Performance and to negate the effects on body composition in the off-season and for an upcoming event.
Now, you’re probably wondering how to still enjoy some alcohol in moderation without ruining the festive spirit? 🤔
Currently, there is no definitive answer of a 'safe' level of alcohol intake. At best we can only make general recommendations based off of the available scientific evidence and trends.
Context as always is also important, thus:
"Is drinking alcohol the most optimal thing for building as much muscle mass as possible?" Most probably not.
"Is it still possible to experience Fat loss whilst limiting some alcohol intake?" Sure.
"Should the average individual go cold turkey, never drink or be social again?" May not be ideal or realistic, but more power to you if you can abstain!
Much like nutrition, a controlled & balanced approach where revolving alcohol intake around your energy (calorie) requirements can still likely produce results and be considered 'safe' for most individuals.
if you are looking at being results focused, consider the below:
Limit your alcohol - 1-2 standard drinks max for Females and 3-4 standard drinks max for Males per day on non-training days for optimal results, general health & lowered alcohol related risk.
Consume Protein - research shows when alcohol is consumed in low to moderate amounts alongside adequate protein consumption has no negative impact on body composition. Aim to consume alcohol alongside a main protein source meal to help with satiety.
Keep a Food Diary - Keep a food diary to track how many calories and nutrients you are actually consuming. Download the free MyFitnessPal app today!
Be Active - whether it’s a fun family outing at the park or jumping on an exercise bike. Moving more at rest and play will help burn off some of those excess calories.
Drink Water - Did you know water helps aid Fat Loss? It also assists with internal ‘Thermoregulation’ and is also vital in cooling the body. Consume water in-between drinks to stay hydrated and not put yourself in a compromised position!
Eat Fibre - not a big fan of vegetables or bread? These guys are an ideal source of micronutrients and also contain Fibre to help keep us full longer.
If you choose to consume alcohol, ensure you set yourself up with realistic targets without sacrificing everything else per drinking occasion.
Remember 200 kcals = 1 Corona Extra or 2 and a half glasses of Red Wine.
1. Weststrate, JA et al 1990, Alcohol and its acute effects on resting metabolic rate and diet-induced thermogenesis. Br J Nutr. Sep;64(2):413-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2121268
2. Edenberg, H.J. 2007. The genetics of alcohol metabolism: Role of alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase variants. Alcohol Research & Health 30(1):5–13, 2007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860432/
3. Voet D, Voet J, Pratt C, Fundamentals of Biochemistry: Life at the Molecular Level. 5th edn. Wiley, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21154/
4. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol 2009:
5. Verster J, Duin Dv, Volkerts E et al (2003) Alcohol hangover effects on memory functioning and vigilance performance after an evening of binge drinking. Neuropsychopharmacol 28: 740–46.
6. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand ‐ Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults (2013) ‐ National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia (2013) ‐ National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Energy, p15 & 23.
7. Studies into the effects of alcohol on cognitive performance (Tagawa et al 2000; Howland et al 2001; Marinkovic et al 2001; Verster et al 2003; Marinkovic et al 2004;
8. Schweizer TA, Jolicoeur P, Vogel-Sprott M et al (2004) Fast, but error-prone, responses during acute alcohol intoxication: Effects of stimulus–response mapping complexity. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 28: 643–49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15100617
9. Schweizer TA, Vogel-Sprott M, Danckert J et al (2006) Neuropsychological profile of acute alcohol intoxication during ascending and descending blood alcohol concentrations. Neuropsychopharmacol 31: 1301–09. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16251993
10. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2010 Jul;26(5):393-405. doi: Enhanced weight loss with protein-enriched meal replacements in subjects with the metabolic syndrome.
11. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Nov;28(11):1420-6. Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects.
12. Influence of moderate daily wine consumption on body weight regulation and metabolism in healthy free-living males.L Cordain, E D Bryan, C L Melby & M J Smith
13. Physiol Behav. 2004 Mar;81(1):51-8. Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15059684
14. J Appl Physiol (1985). Epub 2014 Sep 25. Alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTOR signaling in a time-dependent manner following electrically stimulated muscle contraction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25257868
15. Methods Mol Biol. 2008;447:343-55. doi: 10.1007/978-1-59745-242-7_22. Assessing effects of alcohol consumption on protein synthesis in striated muscles.
16. Nutrients. 2019 Apr; 11(4): 909. Published online 2019 Apr 23. doi: 10.3390/nu11040909PMCID: PMC6521009PMID: 31018614 Beer or Ethanol Effects on the Body Composition Response to High-Intensity Interval Training. The BEER-HIIT Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521009/
17. Alcohol consumption and cognitive performance: a Mendelian randomization study. Addiction. 2014 Sep; 109(9): 1462–1471. Published online 2014 Jul 1. doi: 10.1111/add.12568