Alcohol can be a right bugger for your body. Not exactly shocking news. However, when it comes to trying to lean up, alcohol can be very sneaky in sabotaging your progress.
Apart from making you dance like you are in an extremely tight budget “Step Up” movie, alcohol affects weight loss in a few different ways.
Firstly, it is pretty calorie dense. Clocking in at 7 calories per gram second only to fat at 9 calories per gram but way ahead of both carbohydrate and protein at 4 calories/g. You may not think it, but even straight spirits can be pretty calorie heavy. For example, a 50ml shot of Grey Goose Vodka would come in at 117 calories and a same size shot of single cream comes in at 102 calories. I’m not saying to go out and replace all your drinks with cream, delicious as that sounds.
A fun but scary tool I sometimes give to people is this little section on the BBC website. You drag what you have drunk onto the bar, and it will show you a food equivalent. For instance, if you drank 5 pints on a night out, that would be the equivalent of 4 burgers. It’s a very visual way of putting the calories you drank into context.
Next, alcohol is a bit of a selfish little substance. Much like the drunk girl at the bar trying to cut the line to get in, alcohol loves to queue jump. When your body registers alcohol in the system, it will work to metabolise the calories it provides first. So not only is there an influx of calories, they are being taken care of first, blocking more useful sources such as those found in your body’s carbohydrate and fat stores from being metabolised.
Alcohol also stimulates areas of the brain that increase appetite. Until recently this was a bit of a mystery and seemed a bit counter intuitive as alcohol has a suppressing effect on ghrelin (an appetite increasing hormone and not a Lord of the Rings character), but some animal studies have now shown alcohol fires up some specific brain neurons that drive food intake, called agouti-related peptides, or AgRP. This may be responsible for those fast food cravings at the end of the night out and why we drift towards foods that are extremely calorie dense *cough* kebab *cough* cheesy chips.
Did you know that binge drinking is defined “as the consumption of five drinks of alcohol within 2 hours in men or four drinks in women, once a month or more often”, I was a bit shocked by this as I definitely binge drink more than I thought. Binging is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is a core characteristic of people with the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. It is not known whether the link between binge drinking and the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes is causal (that is, binge drinking induces insulin resistance) or whether insulin resistance develops secondary to increased caloric intake as a result of drinking. A decrease in insulin resistance can be seen up to 54 hours after alcohol consumption meaning way after the hangover (and possible walk of shame), alcohol is eating into our leaning up progress.
So should we avoid alcohol all together?
No (unless we choose to)
As with everything, balance is key. Don’t make yourself miserable by sipping on a water on a night out, but likewise, don’t re-enact your lads/girls holiday to Kavos/Magaluf/Ayia Napa every time you have a drink. Be smart, keep hydrated, try to eat something nutritious before going out and if possible try and drag yourself away from Abra-Kebabra at the end of the night. Future you will be thankful!