Alcohol. Love it, hate it, or abstain from it, it’s a confusing subject when it comes to health and metabolism. To figure out how much is right for you, you have to take a look at your overall goals. Are you trying to lose fat? Are you choosing high-sugar drinks or health-promoting ones? Are you in control when you drink and able to make good decisions regarding your health and safety?
While it provides some health benefits (it can raise good cholesterol, and some types, such as red wines, have antioxidants and health-promoting components), too much at once is an absolute drag to your metabolism. Binge drinking must be avoided for any athlete who’s serious about losing fat. And, while many might think binges only happen in frat-house parties, I’ve found that many athlete clients unwind with 5, 6, or 12 drinks on a weekend night after a hard workout. Here’s why it’s a metabolism saboteur:
1) First, there’s the issue of the calories. Hard liquor contains ~100 calories per shot. Wine has ~150 calories per 6 oz. And beer is variable depending on its alcohol content, but usually spans between 80 and 250 calories per 12 oz. That’s just for the alcohol. Then, add any sugary mix that goes with it (I talking to us margarita-lovers) and you can easily top 600 calories per drink. During a real binge, 5+ of these drinks can completely wipe away any efforts at the calorie or carbohydrate deficit one’s created over the week.
2) Next, it relaxes any inhibitions about overeating food. Sure, if you’re eating broccoli while drinking beer, there’s little chance of a food calorie overload. But, most alcohol-food combos involve rich, high-calorie party foods, desserts, salty snacks, etc. Not only is the calorie/carb deficit wiped out, there’s a good chance of being in the red and causing a gain in weight/fat post-binge.
3) Alcohol, once converted to acetate in your bloodstream, becomes your body’s fuel source. Sounds great, right? You’re burning it off. Well, the issue is that you’re not burning fat. In fact, fat breakdown becomes completely halted as your body and your liver deal with burning through the acetate. A big binge can affect fat oxidation (breakdown) for as many as 3 days. Now, not only have you wiped out the calorie deficit for last week, you’ve annihilated any chance of fat breakdown for half of next week.
4) Then, binge drinking reduces testosterone. For both men and women, lower levels of testosterone means reduced muscle mass and higher fat mass. It means less daily calorie/fat burn and more fat accumulation as hormones are imbalanced. Testosterone is your metabolism’s friend. We lose it slowly as we age – don’t expedite the process!
5) Lastly, while you may feel extra-relaxed after a binge, binge drinking can screw up your natural circadian rhythms, which messes up your blood sugars and glucose metabolism (with or without carb intake, this can increase fat storage and reduce oxidation), cortisol balance (this stress hormone leads to fat accumulation) and sleep patterns. All of these spell trouble for metabolism and fat breakdown.
If you’re one of the many who looks forward to a drink with dinner every night, and you’re at your goal weight, cheers! If you look forward to 10 drinks on the weekend and you’re frustrated because you’re not meeting your weight goals, stop the party-bus. Enjoy the company rather than the drinks. If you can handle keeping your drinks to only 2-3, that’s a start. If this ball rolls out of control the minute the first drip hits your lips, it’s time to set your goals and take a break to break this habit.
The difference of 5 lbs. is a world of difference to the competitive endurance athlete. Your body is a machine. Give it what it needs and it will run well. Fill it with junk and it will break down. Drop the Drag this week.
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