With the holidays around the corner the gym, working out and proper nutrition will take a backseat to partying for a lot of people. Everyone loves a good party, but one of the biggest nutrition killers at a lot of these parties will be alcohol. There are a lot of adverse effects of alcohol but I know a lot of people that still have trouble limiting their intake. Now there are some health benefits that can be obtained from moderate alcohol consumption, but there are a lot more negative effects from alcohol that will hinder your muscle growth and fat loss.
Alcohol is a depressant which causes people to relax and lower inhibitions. This is why it is so popular in social settings. It also affects people’s rational thought and judgment. It gets absorbed pretty quickly into the body and gets into the bloodstream quicker than any nutrients. It targets the cerebral cortex in the brain. The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for rational thought. The limbic system, which is responsible for emotion, takes over and becomes the decision maker for rational thought. This is where many of the problems come from because people start to make decisions based on emotions and as I have often heard as emotion goes up, intelligence goes down.
So obviously there are some bad things that can happen externally when you drink, but let’s talk about more about how alcohol affects your health. But before I get into all the bad things that alcohol can bring let me talk a little about the good things when alcohol is consumed in moderate amounts. The major positive has to do with your heart. Alcohol seems to raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol. This is a great benefit to the heart as it lowers your risk for heart disease. It also helps to lower your risk of gallstones by one third and Alzheimer’s disease by 26 percent. So those are some good things but before you head over to the liquor cabinet and pour yourself a drink, there are also a lot of negative effects that drinking alcohol can bring.
- Lots of empty calories. Limiting calories is especially important for people who are cutting. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Protein and carbs each have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. So the calories in alcohol are much more similar to fat than protein or carbs. The high calorie per gram ratio makes it very easy to get too many calories when drinking. When trying to dissuade my fat-loss clients from sabotaging their goals by drinking I tell them to imagine they are drinking a glass of cooking oil when they drink because the calories are pretty similar. Not only are the calories high but they are “empty calories” which mean they have no nutritional value. Fat does have higher calories per gram but your body utilizes dietary fat for many functions. The body cannot use the calories from alcohol for anything except to burn for energy.
- Limits fat burning. So there are a lot of extra calories you get by consuming alcohol, but the major negative from alcohol in regards to burning fat comes from the lower lipid oxidation level. (Lipid oxidation is a measure of how fast your body burns fat.) Basically since alcohol is a toxin the body works to remove it from your system as quickly as possible. While it is doing this it stops burning fat. So the major fat-loss negative from alcohol isn’t the calories that are stored as fat, it’s from the fat that doesn’t get burned for energy.
- Decreases the production of testosterone. As the blood alcohol levels increase, the testosterone levels decrease. This is not just important for males and those who want to get bigger. It is
also important for females and those looking to get leaner. And yes females produce testosterone as well. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means is aids in building lean muscle mass. The more muscle you have the greater your caloric needs will be since it increases your metabolism. So testosterone is important for those wanting to gain muscle as well as those who are looking to burn fat. In addition to aiding fat loss by increasing your lean muscle, testosterone also has a powerful fat loss effect.
- Decreased protein synthesis. Protein is the building block for muscle. Protein synthesis is a process that is necessary for muscle to be created. When you create more muscle cells than you lose through working out (and other daily activities) you will build muscle. If you lose more than you create than you lose muscle. Alcohol blocks the process that builds new muscle cells resulting in your body being in a catabolic state where you are losing muscle. The protein synthesis occurs for 24-48 hours after your workout so if you drink within that timeframe you are seriously impeding your results.
- Muscle dehydration. Muscles that are fully hydrated create an environment ideal for building muscle. Alcohol is known for dehydrating you, which is why you get hangovers. When it dehydrates your muscle cells it makes it much harder for the body to build muscle.
- Interferes with the release of growth hormone. Growth hormone stimulates cell regeneration and protein synthesis. The peak of the growth hormone release occurs about an hour after you fall asleep. Drinking alcohol severely limits the growth hormone that is released while you sleep.
- Lowers inhibitions. As previously mentioned alcohol lowers your inhibitions. This can be great if you are trying to relax but can (and usually) does result in some poor judgment choices. There is a lot that can go wrong when your decision making is impaired, but as far as fitness goes, it can lead to some pretty poor food choices. When you are strict on your diet, a little alcohol can steer you far off course. When your inhibitions are lowered, you will be more likely to eat that slice of pie or the greasy piece of pizza. Alcohol also effects motivation and it can be harder to have the willpower to avoid diet killing foods.
- Decreases athletic performance. The effects of alcohol can linger for a few days. During this time you may experience decreased strength, increased fatigue, impaired coordination & slow reaction time. Strength, stamina, coordination and reaction time are all key skills that are vital to athletic performance. A drop in any one of these components will seriously decrease any results for athletes.
In addition to all of these detrimental effects there are a bunch of different health problems that drinking alcohol can bring on including liver and kidney damage. So while there may be some health benefits from moderate drinking for your heart and cholesterol there are far too many negatives to justify drinking alcohol for the health benefits alone.
If you are serious about getting results from your workout it is probably best to avoid or at least limit any alcohol in your diet. Because of how if effects your body it will be especially key to avoid alcohol right after your workouts or right before bed. Alcohol has negative effects for muscle gain, fat loss and athletic performance, which are the 3 major goal categories for most people.