Let’s begin at the beginning. If you are trying to lose weight or (more specifically) reduce your body fat percentage, you will certainly benefit from reducing your intake of alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol intake is an issue in the City of London and carries the ability to kill your progress, for various reasons. In addition to contributing extra energy (calories) to your daily intake, alcohol interferes with normal metabolic pathways including ‘fat burning’. This interference can lead quickly to more body fat being stored.
This blog post will specifically discuss how and why alcohol intake will impair fat loss. That being said, we do not want our article to read as a simple warning. Instead, we offer guidance on how you can comfortably reduce your alcohol intake with minimal impact on your social life. After all, being a success team of transformation coaches in the City means quickly finding ways to navigate the pitfalls of alcohol consumption! We offer a few quick solutions to mitigate the damage caused, should total cessation not be particularly ‘favourable’ at this time.
First, we start with why…
Alcohol is a Preferred Fuel vs. Body Fat
We work with individuals in high-pressure occupations, with social and family commitments. Fat loss does not come easily for many of our clients and we must fight for progress wherever we can.
To lose fat, you must ‘burn’ more energy, in the gym (and throughout your day), than you consume through your food. Of course, it is a lot easier to consume calories than it is to burn them! Alcohol carries 7-kcals per gram. This is 3 additional kcals per gram than both protein and carbohydrates, and only 2 less kcals per gram than dietary fat. If all dietary energy sources are available in your blood together, alcohol is your body’s preferred choice. This means (to keep it simple) you must first burn-off all of the alcohol you have consumed before you can begin burning the energy you obtained through other sources i.e. your food. In this sense, energy from alcohol is similar to sugar! It’s fast, easy to metabolise and your body prioritises its use.
Alcohol and Your Metabolism (the science)
Alcohol’s (unfortunate) ability to inhibit your body’s fat burn occurs via two separate metabolic mechanisms. Both mechanisms involve the creation of an excess of NADH in your blood; a compound produced from alcohol. NADH can be used by your body to make new fatty acids and glycerol (a simple sugar), or it can enter a separate (and somewhat complicated mechanism called; the electron transport chain), where it is used as energy. Both mechanisms shift and interfere with normal fat metabolism and ‘block’ the standard fat-burning processes in your body. If taken to the extreme, this consequence of alcohol consumption can lead to the various alcohol associated conditions such as fatty liver disease and an increased risk for a heart attack. However, less seriously, it can halt your effort to lose fat very quickly!
More Calories, Less Fat Loss (the essence)
In addition to alcohol consumption interfering with normal fat metabolism, alcohol can also contribute a significant amount of energy to your daily intake. One ‘light beer’, one small serving of dry wine or one shot of a distilled 80-proof spirit provides you with more than 100 calories or pure, liquid energy. These are just the lesser of the evils! There are significantly more calories contained within standard (non-light) beer, wine and cordials or liqueurs due to the extra carbohydrate content in these beverages.
In a typical serving of a standard alcoholic beverage, there can be far more kcals than you imagine. For example, a pint of beer provides ~200 kcals, a large glass of white wine provides ~190 kcals and cordials or liqueurs ~160 kcals each. A Long Island Iced Tea, on the other hand, can deliver ~700 kcals per cocktail! You would need to include an extra workout each week just to enjoy one of these cocktails at the weekend. If you are on an intensive 12-week programme, getting in shape for a holiday or even working out to stay in great shape, these are significant factors to consider.
The Craving Issue is Real
There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that alcohol has significant impact on the effect of food cravings and will effect your experience of satisfaction after a meal. Alcohol may also increase your appetite and your craving of high-sugar, high-fat, energy dense foods.
One particular study published in the journal “Appetite” (2010) tested female subjects who consumed either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages before their lunch. The team of researchers reported that when the sample of women who consumed alcohol sat down to eat, they consumed significantly more food (and more energy) and reported having a larger appetite for the rest of the day, even after lunch. An increased appetite, leading to an increased intake of energy dense food, will obviously impair your fat loss and the result of you effort in the gym.
How to Effectively Cut Down Your Intake
At this point, in a blog post on the subject of alcohol consumption, you will typically find a list of “practical” but unlikely behaviours to implement in order to help reduce intake. At Embody Fitness, we want to cut through the items that do not help and highlight only those we find most effective. Trust us, we have implemented various strategies with a range of clients over the years. Certain strategies simply do not work.
1) Inform your friends and ask for their help.
The most common challenge for those starting to cut down is the pressure to socially conform. It may be that you are soon to attend a birthday celebration, a client function or a networking event. These occasions encourage (and occasionally demand) that alcohol be consumed. If you let your colleagues, friends and family know that you are cutting down and that it’s important to you, you will/should gain their support.
There have been several cases when clients did not achieve the support of a boss or co-worker. We have ways to deal with this also!
2) If you can’t (or won’t) cut-out alcohol, then at least cut-down.
You can still enjoy a drink, but go for smaller sizes. Try bottled beer instead of pints, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one. This theory applies to shorts (e.g. whiskey), provided you understand and commit to bowing-out in the early rounds.
3) Reduce your drinking frequency.
Have several drink-free days each week. This is obviously not the perfect scenario (as our list works backwards from the ideal), but less alcohol being consumed means a fighting chance of increasing your output (in- and outside the gym) to the point where the energy balance you achieve has significant effect on your body composition.
4) Reduce the strength.
You can easily switch from a typical 5% lager to a 4% version (for example). Ask for a single measure of spirits in your drink instead of matching those around you and always keep an eye out for low alcohol wine and beers when in the supermarket.
Thank you for reading.
To read something similar, try Choosing Healthy Office Snacks