For most of us, having a glass of wine with dinner, or a few beers/drinks with friends of the weekend is part of an enjoyable social lifestyle. But at what point does your alcohol consumption interfere with your health and fitness goals? If you're someone who drinks daily, this may be a limitation that you haven't yet considered as to why you're not getting the results you want. Especially if you're at the stage of fine tuning (i.e. trying to lose the last 10 pounds). Here's how aspects of alcohol consumption may be holding you back:
Alcohol is just calories, sugar and fat
Other than maybe giving you liquid courage, alcohol does nothing good for your body. Alcohol isn't a nutrient, therefore your body can't do it anything with it.
Because alcohol has 7 calories per gram, it's rich in energy and your liver will actually prefer to break it down over other substrates. Except it gets nothing nutritious out of it, so instead alcohol just wastes your liver's time, alochol gets stored as fat, and all you're left with are the metabolic byproducts, acetaldehyde and acetate which you can thank for that nausea and gut-rot feeling you get after a night out.
Alcohol interferes with energy production
Since your body will prefer to digest alcohol over other actual nutrients, this also means that while you're drinking, your body is no longer performing actual beneficial functions like breaking down carbohydrates for glucose (which is what our bodies use for energy). This means that all your previously-consumed carbs could end up stored as fat, and you'll have low blood glucose levels which will leave you feeling drained. This will then make likely to perform your workouts the next day, or if you do, at a lower intensity than had you not had anything to drink the night before.
Both of these things combined mean high fat storage and low energy - both things that are likely to get in the way of any weight loss and muscle gain goal.
Alcohol is a diuretic
Being a diuretic, means that alcohol will dehydrate you. So not only is this part of what makes hangovers so terrible, but dehydration interferes with your body's water levels which are important for organ function, transporting nutrients, digestion, etc.
Exercising the morning after drinking can dehydrate you even more via increased body temperature and sweating. So when you combine the two, dehydration can reduce circulation of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles leading to reduced performance. Nevermind overheating, which can be dangerous.
Not to mention the calories
Alcohol has 7 calories per 1 gram. Compare this to carbs, protein and fat which have 4, 4 and 9, respectively. So it's no surprise that the calories can add up fast (one 6 ounce glass of wine will have ~ 120 calories).
Let's not forget if you're drinking wine or mixed drinks, the sugar content will not only send you way over your macros but also spike your insulin levels leading to fat storage.
Lastly, not to mention if you're one of those people who heads out for late night booze-snacks like pizza or poutine after a night out, this can definitely mess with your meal plan.
Your body may be hungover even if you don't feel it
We all know hangovers suck, so even if you feel lucky enough to avoid the symptoms of a hangover, your insides may not be. Even if you aren't comatose at home on your couch with a bottle of Gatorate, your reaction time will still be slower and you'll fatigue faster if you're at the gym on a hangover. Additionally, your body won't be able to get rid of lactic acid that's built up by your muscles. This means you'll end up sore and without those gains you've been working so hard for.
Alcohol disrupts sleep
Since we also recently discussed how sleep can limit your success, we'll bring up the fact that alcohol can also interfere with sleep.
Sure most of us know how it can feel easier to fall asleep after a few drinks (we wanted to avoid saying 'passing out', but you could put it that way...), but alcohol actually also inhibits your body from achieving REM (deep restful) sleep. So even if you fall asleep faster, you won't be as well rested. Since sleep is when our bodies recover, re-energize and produce hormones like HGH (human growth hormone) for muscle repair and growth, if your sleep is constantly being upheaved by alcohol, your gains are going to suffer.
Studies have found that long-term alcohol consumption reduced the body's ability to utilize glucose and amino acids, adversely effects energy supply and impairs metabolic processes during exercise. Long-term alcohol consumption can also be associated with the degradation of muscle fibres and harmful to your liver, in addition to causing heart disease and a variety of different forms of cancer including pancreatic and liver.
On the contrary, some studies have also found exercise can counter-balance the negative effects of long-term alcohol consumption. But there reaches a point of no return and if you're outdrinking your exercise routine, you're unlikely to achieve a healthy balanced lifestyle.
It's not all bad
We're not saying don't drink alcohol ever, especially when there's lots of studies that have shown that alcohol in moderation has long-term benefits. We've all heard that a glass of red wine a day, which is high in iron and antioxidants, can be good for heart health and that a glass of beer can improve immune response and reduce C-reactive proteins linked to heart disease. Instead, our woes about alcohol in the long term stem from 'chronic alcohol consumption' which can be classified as more than a single drink for women and more than two drinks for men a day.
It's all about balance
You'll hear us say it over again - it's all about balance. So if you want to have the occasional drink, we're not going to say no. But remember, it's always recommended to consume in moderation and with food and water. And of course, since we follow that IIFYM lifestyle, track your alcohol macros to ensure you'll continue to reach your goals. Working Against Gravity even has an alcohol macro calculator to make it easy for you.