For many people, alcohol is one of life’s pleasures. Its consumption is associated with celebration, relaxation, and socializing. Some people believe that alcohol in moderation can be healthy, or even reduce your risk of heart disease or heart attack. Other research suggests that even irregular alcohol consumption could be unhealthy.
Because of the vast amount of conflicting information available, it’s up to the individual to decide if alcohol consumption is the right thing for them, how they feel after consuming alcohol, or whether it fits within their macro goals...
Here are all the details to decide whether alcohol makes the cut in your lifestyle, and what to do if you do go over your calorie targets when consuming alcohol...
1. ALCOHOL CALORIES COUNT
Almost everything you eat and drink contains calories. Each of the food groups contains a specific number of calories per gram, and alcohol is no different.
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram
Alcohol = 7 calories per gram
As you can see, alcohol is second only to fat in terms of calories per gram. If you drink a few alcoholic drinks it is all-too-easy to end up consuming a whole lot of calories. This is often compounded by high-sugar mixers like juice, cola or lemonade. In some instances, this can double the number of calories in your drink.
Liquids don’t tend to be as filling as food and so it’s very easy to consume a lot of extra calories.
2. ALCOHOL IS BURNT BEFORE OTHER SOURCES OF CALORIES
Your body views alcohol as a priority fuel. If you have any alcohol in your body, it will burn it before anything else. In effect, this means that calories from carbs and fats are more likely to be stored if you have recently consumed alcohol. It takes about an hour to process one unit of alcohol, the amount in a typical alcoholic beverage, and until that has been done, any food you eat will be converted and stored as fat.
3. ALCOHOL CAN LOWER YOUR INHIBITIONS
Alcohol can make you more inclined to make unhealthy nutritional choices because it lowers your inhibitions. You might normally have no problem resisting junk food, but after a few beers, your normally strong willpower may crumble, and you find yourself in a kebab shop ordering an extra-large doner with chips! Because your body prioritizes alcohol processing, that means this huge influx of calories is going straight to your fat stores.
4. ALCOHOL IS AN ANTI-NUTRIENT
Alcohol itself contains no vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. It’s the epitome of empty calories. However, digesting alcohol uses nutrients that your body will have to find from elsewhere. Essentially, alcohol is a nutrient robber!
Some alcoholic drinks do contain a few vitamins and/or minerals. For example, beer contains vitamin B while Guinness is high in iron… These nutrients do not make up for the fact that alcoholic beverages mostly use, rather than contribute to your intake of essential nutrients.
5. ALCOHOL CAN WEAKEN WILLPOWER
Got a big workout planned for tomorrow? Plans to get up early and go for a run?
Drinking any amount of alcohol could mean plans to workout are quickly forgotten! Alcohol, even when not consumed to excess, can weaken your willpower so that you end up skipping your workouts. If you overindulge and are hungover, your chances of training are even lower! Making the choice to consume alcohol, you have to consider what your overall fitness goals are, and how much alcohol will impact them.
6. ALCOHOL IS DEHYDRATING
Your body uses water to flush alcohol through your liver for processing and to get alcohol out of your body via your kidneys. This can lead to dehydration, and one of the reasons drinking too much can give you such a horrible headache. If you are an exerciser, proper hydration is crucial as your body uses water to keep you cool, and also to keep your blood from thickening. Lowering your H20 levels can have a huge impact on your exercise performance.
Dehydration happens very quickly and can take several days to recover from. This means your body could be low on water for Monday’s workout after a few (too many) beers over the weekend!
TIPS FOR “HEALTHIER” ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
If you want to enjoy alcohol and make sure it has minimal impact on your weight, health, and exercise performance, put these tips into action:
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or diet soda to minimize dehydration.
- Use diet mixers to avoid consuming more calories than necessary.
- Avoid cocktails that contain several measures of alcohol plus high-sugar syrups and other mixers – they contain a large number of calories.
- Clear spirits such as vodka and gin tend to contain fewer calories. Mix with soda to keep your calorie intake as low as possible.
- Light beers are lower in carbs, calories, and alcohol than regular beer but many taste almost identical.
- Try not to eat junk food along with your alcohol as this can lead to weight gain. If you are at home, make sure you have access to healthy snacks.
- Be aware that home-poured measures are invariably bigger than pub and bar measures and it’s very easy to drink more than you mean to at home.
- Do not use alcohol as a sleep aid – it can disrupt your normal sleep cycle so that you end up more tired rather than rested and refreshed.
- Avoid drinking alcohol when you are thirsty – you will tend to drink more and faster as a result.
- Some social situations are inextricably linked to alcohol consumption. If you have trouble drinking responsibly, it may be necessary to avoid times and places where you’ll feel pressured to overindulge.
Alcohol is a controversial subject. On the one hand, a few drinks can be a very sociable, enjoyable way to unwind at the end of a hard week. On the other hand, alcohol is the most commonly abused and available drug.
By all means, enjoy alcohol responsibly, but make sure you also consider the consequences, especially over-consumption!