Let’s Talk Alcohol…

Many people put their lack of low body composition on the presence of alcohol.  This is true is many ways.  However, it’s important to know the science behind alcohol consumption and what it’s actually doing when you consume it.  You might be surprised by the answer…

First things first…

Do you remember the post I wrote a few weeks back about energy balance? About how technically, you could eat only chocolate chip cookies and still lose weight if you had a negative energy balance? Well, lucky for you, the same goes with alcohol… and chips… and pizza… even pasta and soda.  However, because of the lack of essential vitamins and minerals found in these foods and alcohol, you would not only halt muscle gain, but would metabolize these foods and alcohol slower due to a hormonal imbalance in your body.  I’m a firm believer in this based off of scientific evidence that supports the energy balance formula.  Remember, if you are at an calorie deficit, you’ll lose weight, regardless of what you’re consuming.  I’m not condoning fast food or alcohol on a daily basis in any way, this isn’t an optimal form of weight loss or maintenance, whatever you goal may be.  But it is the simple science of it.  So simple that this is what people who are on an Arete program love– the flexibility of what you can eat and how much of it you can eat. That being said, it’s irresponsible and ignorant to assume that because the science backs it up that you can now replace your vitamin and mineral rich supper of greens, lean protein, and simple sugars for 6 Budweisers in the driveway with your bros.  But I digress…

Fat Storer vs. Fat Burning Suppressor 

This is where things get tricky, because although most people assume that alcohol is a fat storer (which it is in a sense), it’s more of a fat burning suppressor.  Have you ever heard the myth: “if you eat too much protein, it will convert itself to fat.” Well, just like protein, the conversion of protein to fat and alcohol to stored fat is too much of a process for acetyl-CoA to go through, therefore the concept is actually just wasted energy.  In other words, the signaling receptors in your cells see that there is no sugar or fat to be burned in the process of consuming alcohol.  So instead of you using these energy sources, it’s likely you pass this energy through digestion rather than using the energy you consume (a.k.a. using the calories).  Simply put, you aren’t necessarily storing this fat, the hormonal receptors in your body just aren’t using it effectively. Therefore, the thermogenic effect, although fairly high due to the contents in the alcohol, aren’t being utilized optimally, conversely being unable to use the “energy” properly.

Empty Calories

If you’ve ever heard this term, it’s likely you understand the concept.  An “empty calorie” is something that provides little to no nutritional benefit.  Think of cookies, chips, fries, beer, soda, etc.  It’s important to understand however that just because a food is considered an “empty” food, doesn’t always mean that it’s “empty.” Here’s what I mean: pizza is often times considered an empty calorie food.  This is true in a sense, however, if you haven’t eaten anything in an entire day, your body will utilize that energy.  Is this whole energy balance thing starting to make sense? Yes, you will use the energy, but again, it won’t be optimal.  That being said, assuming that cleaning up your diet completely and eating the perfect amounts of every vitamin and mineral that is essential to life is also ignorant and far-fetched.  You’ll miss some vitamins and minerals, but supplementing with a vitamin supplement may not be a bad start to get you closer.  Either way, it’s up for interpretation on alcohol being “empty.”  Again, it’s more of a fat suppressor than a fat storer as well as negatively impacting B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and a number of other vital vitamins and minerals.

So what do we do?! 

As I’ve stated before, I believe that it’s important to enjoy life and the foods and drinks that we’ve been so graciously gifted.  That being said, it’s also important to be intelligent and educated on the subject matter.  Will a beer or two a week completely halt the process of you losing weight or gaining muscle? No, it won’t.  Just like having a slice of pizza or drinking a few beers on a Friday night won’t either.  The important thing is to understand energy balance and the flush of vitamins and minerals you are putting on your body when doing so.  An absolute perfect, optimal day isn’t possible, however you can get pretty close, which is what you should try to do every day through proper nutrition and vitamin supplementation.  If I were to suggest a “number” of drinks, a 12 oz. drink a day isn’t going to halt your progress nearly as much as eating a #5 from Wendy’s will.  It’s about balance and understanding where you should be daily and capitalizing on that.  This whole health thing is pretty simple:

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Implement movement daily
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Supplement with a multi-vitamin
  • Reduce stress
  • Smile and be happy

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