Ask The Ripped Dude: Can You Booze It And Still Lose It?
We've all seen the guy with the giant belly and thought, "Whoa, that dude drinks a lot of beer!" Many people believe that even a small amount of alcohol will somehow transform their trim waistlines into Death-Star-sized guts. "That's no moon! It's a beer belly!"
While it's probably safe to assume that excess calories will cause excess fat, alcohol doesn't magically pack on the pounds. However, alcohol is calorically dense and can temporarily hinder fat metabolism.
Should you ditch the drink? Pull up a barstool and I'll fill you in!
As you may know, carbs and protein contain four calories per gram, while fats have nine. Alcohol has seven calories per gram, and is processed differently from the other macronutrients. Alcohol is not an essential nutrient. When ingested, your body typically identifies alcohol as a toxin and works furiously to remove it.
Alcohol has a negative reputation in the fitness community. Part of it stems from the fact that alcohol severely lowers the body's fat oxidation rate. A study published in the American Journal of College of Nutrition1 found that, when men were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade, their lipid oxidation dropped by 73 percent!
Lipid oxidation is a measure of how much fat your body is burning. So, even though the cocktails in question were only 90 calories each, they had a huge impact on the drinkers' fat-burning power.
You can see this effect in the figure below, which shows fat oxidation before and after alcohol consumption.
Rather than getting stored as fat, alcohol is converted to a substance called acetate. In the study, subjects had a blood acetate level two and a half times higher than normal. This sharp rise in acetate puts the brakes on fat loss.
Of the 24 grams of alcohol that was consumed in the study, only 3-5 percent was turned to fat. Our body responds to alcohol much as it deals with excess carbs. Alcohol isn't necessarily evil because it's always stored as fat, but because it reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy.
Furthermore, alcohol can make you want to eat more. According to one study reported in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders2, a group of men ate more food when the meal was served with beer or wine rather than a soft drink.
As it turns out, the "drunchies" are real. (Yes, the "drunk munchies.") A 2002 study in Denmark verified that alcohol can work as a potent appetite stimulant.
Before you go drowning your fat-loss sorrows in more booze, you should know that it is still possible to lose weight while consuming alcohol.
A German study3 assigned 49 overweight subjects to one of two 1,500 calorie diets. The first group's diet included a glass of wine every day, while the other group drank a glass of grape juice.
The wine group actually lost 10.4 pounds, while the juice drinkers lost 8.3 pounds. When used sparingly, alcohol can be a part of a healthy meal plan. In other words, moderation is the key.
Now, I'm not an alcohol drinker myself. The Ripped Dude never gets "ripped," as in two sheets to the wind. Nor am I advocating that you go out and get drunk. I will say, however, that consuming small amounts of alcohol each day—say, a glass of wine with dinner—is probably not going to make you gain fat. It won't even prevent you from reaching your fat-loss goals.
- Cordain L, Bryan ED, Melby CL, Smith MJ. (1997). Influence of moderate daily wine consumption on body weight regulation and metabolism in healthy free-living males. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 16, 134-139.
- Buemann, B., Toubro, S., & Astrup, A. (2002). The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 26, 1367-1372
- Flechtner-Mors, M., Biesalski, H.K., Jenkinson, C.P., Adler, G., & Ditschuneit, H.H. (2004). Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 28, 1420-1426
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Great article..I only drink one night a week. But I make it count, sometimes having up to 10 drinks. I can tell this puts a huge damper on my muscle gains and fat loss. I feel like everything good I did during the week is erased because of all of the alcohol I consumed in the one night. I'm working on slowing down a lot. Anyone else feel the same way?
I rarely have more than a drink or two any given week, but when I do go overboard I feel as though my workouts are substantially harder next time I'm in the gym.
If you spread those 10 drinks evenly over the course of the week, your body would have a much easier time metabolizing the alcohol, and it would have an easier time maintaining normal metabolic processes. Of course, then you don't get drunk, so there's a tradeoff.
I've often thought about my alcohol consumption and how it might affect my progress. I don't drink a lot, maybe five or six drinks a week, so it's good to know it won't be having too much of negative impact.
I enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner. It helps me wind down from the day at work. I do also sometimes go to the pub with friends and over indulge...but this isn't very common and hasn't made a huge difference to my fat loss.
This is a great way to think about alcohol. It's not so much the calories consumed but the fact that your body stops doing everything else and starts to get rid of the alcohol first. I've sabatoged my gains for too long now. Working to only drink on the weekends now in moderation....
I don't drink and for 2 reasons:
1) The issues with fat loss/gain, as mentioned here.
2) The effects on muscle protein synthesis.
My issue is more with #2 than #1. I know how to lose fat, but it's the muscle that I really need.
I've been struggling with balancing my gym goals and my social life.
Throughout my first year of uni, I partied hard and gymed, but I only maxed out ~95kg bodyweight. My dieting was consistent, but slacked a bit after drinking, and drinking makes you lazy as well.
Over summer, I've been 100% dedicated to the gym, and gone up to 105kg bodyweight. I do not miss alcohol at all, I went out for the first time in 2 months, last week, and i regret it if I'm honest.
I much prefer being healthy and jacked.
Decent article. I believe the whole thing of alcohol affecting your weight loss and/or muscle gain goals has definitely been overexaggerated. I once lost pounds from jogging a couple miles while I was drinking a couple of 40 ounces of beer per week. I learned from experience its all about WHAT you eat ALONG with how much you drink.
If you are serious about your training you should not drink alcohol at ALL... It's POISON! In addition it's empty calories and it takes away from your workout the next day. Therefore making it a triple threat
When it comes to serious training there is no place for alcohol, period.
In my opinion, do not get drunk off red wine. It is the worst hang over and wake up with purple lips. I am an avid wine drinker, but limit myself to a few drinks a week. Enjoy in moderation
I'm very much a beginner on fitness and being health conscious, so it goes without saying I'm weary of all the habits I have, including a drink with the wife on date nights. I was relieved when I found this article, great write up.
When drinking, make smart decisions on WHAT you are drinking as well. Beer raises estrogen levels, so guys, if you don't want Gynaecomastia problems (***** tits) or a rise in your estrogen levels, don't drink beer. Beer also has a lot of carbs in it, so stay away from beer. Darker beers can have 10g of per drink. Wine has about 4g of carbs per glass. If you're going to drink, the best way to go is to stay clear. I drink vodka and soda water. 1oz vodka plus soda water is about 64 calories and no carbs.
I noticed that the article didn't say how long lipid oxidation was reduced...unless I missed it. Is it reduced for a certain number of hours or days for each drink? I gained 45 lbs in the last 5 years, not because of alcohol, but from a divorce and lack of time while raising 3 kids by myself.
i do enjoy a glass of wine now and then and will go out on the town maybe one night a month and have a few. I would just love to know how long lipid oxidation is reduced per drink.
Thanks for your help!