Alcohol & Your Body Composition--What's Really Happening

Bottom line: Alcohol Stops Fat Loss. If we are not burning fat, then we are simply storing it.

Successful weight loss is all about burning more calories than you eat or drink. All the food we consume effects the hormones in our bodies. To quote Dr Barry Sears, "Food may be the most powerful drug you will ever encounter because it causes dramatic changes in your hormones that are hundreds of times more powerfull than any pharmaceutical."

Drinking too much alcohol, however, has far more damaging effects than you can predict by just looking at the number of calories in a drink. Not only does it reduce the number of fat calories you burn, alcohol can increase your appetite and lower your testosterone levels for up to 24 hours after you finish drinking. Without testosterone, it is nearly impossible to increase your lean muscle mass. Don't be afraid of muscle; you want more muscle on your body than fat. Muscles at rest just burn calories but fat is toxic. The higher the percentage of fat you have, the more toxic you are which then puts more stress on the other systems of the body.

A recent study has shown that even small amounts of alcohol have a large impact on fat metabolism. In this study, eight men were given two vodka and lemonades separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained less than 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink. For several hours after drinking the vodka, whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) dropped 73%.

The reason why alcohol has this dramatic effect on fat metabolism has to do with the way alcohol is handled in the body. When alcohol is consmed, it readily passes from the stomach and intestines into the bloodon its way to the liver. In the liver, an enzyme, called alcohol dehydrogenate, mediates the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is rapidly converted to acetate by other enzymes. So rather than getting stored as fat, the main fate of alcohol is conversion into acetate. The amount of acetate formed is dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed. For example, blood levels of acetate after drinking the vodka were 2.5 times higher than normal. And it appears this rise in acetate puts the brakes on fat loss. Unfortunatley, when acetate levels rise, your body will burn the acetate for fuel first. Because acetate is readily formed by alcohol it can be worse than taking in carbs as far as effecting fat metabolism. That's because glucose has to be sequentially metabolized through various steps to form acetate while acetate is formed from alcohol in just a few steps.

Also, alcohol, because it can be considered part way between carbs and fats, has more calories than carbs. That's why the low carb beers contain less than 100 calories even though they only have about 2.5 grams of carbs and .5 grams of protein (the carbs and protein only make up 12 calories, while the 12 grams of alcohol make up the remaining 80 or so calories).

The balance of water in our bodies is normally maintained by two opposing mechanisms: the release of water into the bladder and the thirst reponse which increases our water intake.  Dehydration is a major cause of hangovers because the brain turns off the thirst response as it absorbs the alcohol while the kidneys reease water into the bladder, causing us to lose water but not becaome thirsty. To reduce hangovers you should pre-hydrate with at least 24 oz of water before you begin drinking as well as consume water throughout the evening (approximately 6 oz of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume).  This will also help reduce fatigue and nausea from small changes in body temperature that can be caused by dehydration.

So now you know the whole story behind the calories in a cocktail. Below you will find a list of the most common alcoholic beverges and the averge calories in them. Just remember that the calories you will be burning off at the gym after you drink are not fat calories, as we have just explained.

Category - Alcohol % by Volume - Calories per Ounce

Wine - Red or White (12%) - 23 cal.

Champagne - (12.5%) - 26 cal.

American Beer (non-micro: 4.5%) - 12 cal.

Liqueurs (17-24%) - 86-105 cal.

80 proof Liquor (40%) - 65 cal.

86 proof Liquor (43%) - 70 cal.

90 proof Liquor (45%) - 74 cal.

Sweet Sherry - 43 cal.

Medium Sherry - 37 cal.

Dry Sherry - 37 cal.

90 proof Liquor (45%) - 74 cal.

Nina PfisterComment