Want to go for a beer on the beach? Alcohol and its effect on fitness.

Many of us enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine on special occasions or after a rough day at work. Moreover, pub culture is very strong in the UK and quite often an integral part of our social life. While all the pubs and bars are closed many news agencies report increased alcohol consumption during lockdown.  For some to differentiate work day from day off, for some it’s a way to supposedly deal with increased stress and for some as a tool to deal with simple boredom. However, if you are keeping on top of your health and fitness, you might be wondering how regular alcohol consumption may affect your chances of getting rid of that extra layer of fat, being able to run that 10km distance or achieve any other fitness goal set up for this summer. 

How does your body metabolise alcohol?

Once alcohol enters your digestive system it gets partially absorbed in your gut, but most of absorption happens in your small intestine. After that, it enters your bloodstream and eventually gets transported to the liver where it is broken apart by enzymes, metabolized and extracted. How long the metabolization process takes depends on each individual, your body mass, alcohol concentration in your bloodstream and others.

Important note is that your body does not store excess calories from alcohol in comparison to calories from fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Once absorbed, it starts its metabolization journey and eventually gets extracted similarly to how the body might react to poison, having to get it out of your system as quickly as possible. Leaving all the other metabolic processes on the back burner.

What does it mean in regards to storing excess fat?

Moderate use of alcohol itself is not a cause for noticeable weight gain or stored as fat, but what can lead to gaining fat is excess calories consumed. While your body is busy trying to get rid of 7 kcal per gram of alcohol, extra calories from consumed carbs, protein (4 kcal/gram) and fats (9 kcal/gram) will have harder time to being metabolised and used, leading to storing this extra energy as fat on your body.

Personal trainers will often suggest to their clients to cut out alcoholic beverages from their diet if their goal is fat loss. The main reason is that people often don’t account for their drinks (alcoholic or not) and it makes it harder to stay in a calorie deficit. So, even though alcohol itself might not lead to fat gain, it might affect your chances of adjusting your caloric energy balance. 

Alcohol might make you hungrier and lead to consuming high calorie and high fat foods which can hinder your chances of keeping your diet in calorie deficit. Especially because not only our food choices can be questionable while intoxicated, but next day hangover cures for many will include heavy meals.

So, if your main fitness goal is to lose excess body fat as long as you are counting all the calories consumed and are still in caloric deficit it is possible - it’s your choice what kind of quality calories they are. Just keep in mind that consuming your calories in alcohol will take away a large chunk of your solid food.

Day after: Muscle mass and performance.

So, you gave in and went to a little afterwork meeting and sat down on the beach with a friend, 2 meter away, of course. We are all good folks here. What was meant to be one beer and a catch up turned into 4 beers and an in depth analysis of your relationship/work/life options post lockdown.

Next day you wake up dehydrated and a bit grumpy, maybe still a bit intoxicated, but decide to still go along with morning run/yoga/sweat/weight lifting sesh.

First of all, your performance will suffer quite noticeably. Alcohol dehydration causes slowing down of neurological pathway signaling and your body still using energy to clean up leftovers from alcohol and its byproducts, toxins will hinder your performance massively. So, an after drinking workout might speed up the recovery process due to increased blood circulation, but it definitely won’t be a session that brings noticeable gains to your body.

Not only your performance will suffer, but also your muscle protein synthesis is affected. Your results will suffer either you perform resistance training before or after your drinking as it is explained more in detail here and here. Which means that if you are one of those people who likes to have a glass of wine every evening, but at the same time want to ‘tone’ up and tighten your body, you might find it harder to build muscle.

In summary, consuming moderate amounts of alcohol will not cause weight gain or disrupt your attempts at improving your performance, as long as you don’t follow the dopamin caused feel good sensation and don’t start to indulge in a drink every evening. Enjoy your summer guys and have fun, but just be aware of how too much fun might affect your body.

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