Alcohol and Fat Loss

To Beer or Not to Beer

We want to be fit and healthy, but we want to have our booze and drink it too. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not.

Before you shoot the messenger, let me clarify my position. I drink alcohol. In my other life, I write a craft beer blog. (www.GrowlersandLace.com, if you’re interested in craft beer, check it out.) I love a glass or two of Malbec or Tempranillo. So I’m not exactly on a teetotalling soapbox. What I want to do is give you an idea of how alcohol fits into your fitness/nutrition plan–or maybe doesn’t.

All things considered, a glass of wine or a pint of beer or a finger or two of bourbon now and then isn’t likely to present a problem for your physique. You’ve heard all the “moderation” maxims, and those obviously apply here. But since “moderation” is variously interpreted, let’s look at a few facts about alcohol to help us make a decision about whether it works for us.

Alcohol Has Calories

First, alcohol, though nonnutritive, has calories—about 7 cals/g. In a cocktail, the mixers (liqueur, soda, syrup, juice, etc.) will add additional calories, mostly in the form of sugar. These add up pretty quickly.

  • 1 (1.5 ounce) shot of 80-proof alcohol = 96 calories (the higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories; add mixers and the calorie count can double or triple)
  • 1 (5 ounce) glass of red wine = 125-150 calories (a 5-ounce pour is just over half a cup; not much)
  • 1 (12 ounce) serving of 6% ABV beer = 180 calories

Alcohol Inhibits Fat Burning

Second, when your body takes in alcohol, it drops everything else it was working on—metabolically speaking—to process the alcohol and get it out of your system. So here’s where the real problem with alcohol arises: it’s not so much fattening as it is inhibitive to fat burning.

Say you’re out enjoying margarita night with platter of nachos and some fried ice cream. While your body is working feverishly to get the tequila out of your system, those carbs and fats are put on the back burner, which is to say not being burned. They’re hanging out, waiting for the booze to clear . . . and eventually getting stored. See the problem?

Remember, this isn’t just something that occurs with vodka shots or beer funnels. “Skinny” cocktails still have alcohol, even if their mixers have less sugar; so, skinny or not, their effect on the body is the same, they just pack fewer ancillary carbs.

Alcohol Lowers Inhibitions

Third, when we drink, our lowered inhibitions make it super easy to overeat (among other things). We forget that we don’t normally touch White Castle hamburgers . . . and house a dozen. Wings and pizza and garlic knots and disco fries and zeppolis? Sure! Sounds like a great idea. Cheers!

But see #2 above.

The Upshot

Most likely, there’s no need to give up alcohol completely to lose weight. If you’re consuming it mindfully, in moderation—which means a limited number of servings per week—you should be just fine. Keep an eye on those mixers, choose beer with a moderate alcohol content, and make sure your pour of wine is a serving, not a glass.

If, however, your weight loss is stalled and you’re still having a few drinks a week, consider cutting back or cutting out alcohol for a while, and save it only for special occasions.

2 thoughts on “Alcohol and Fat Loss

  1. I really appreciate this post. I struggle with so many social activities that revolve around alcohol, and I often get swept up in whatever event is happening and lose sight of my goals. Moderation and mindfulness, while not always intuitive, sound like the right idea!

    1. There’s no question that it’s tough to be social and simultaneously to keep to a diet or nutrition plan. There’s a lot of pressure from even well-meaning people who don’t want us to “miss out.” I think the key is planning ahead and having a ready strategy–e.g., knowing in advance you’re going to limit yourself to one drink, or cutting your wine with seltzer, whatever the case the may be. You give yourself a little leeway but still keep your goals in mind. Works for me! 😀

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