While this may not be the most popular topic for a fitness newsletter, for those of you who want to be successful with your fitness program, I feel it is one of the most important. During summer, many people equate relaxation with the reward of a cold beer or glass of wine after a hard day’s work or see it as an essential part of having a good time with friends. Besides, what damage can a light beer or low-cal alcoholic drink like diet coke and rum do?
Dieters often reach for a low-calorie alcoholic beverage because it was advertised to contain fewer calories. It may also contain fewer alcohol calories. What you may not know is that drinking too much has a far more damaging effect than can be predicted simply by counting the alcohol calories in the drink.
Beyond the more known dangers of alcohol consumption, alcohol can greatly reduce the number of fat calories you burn. Additionally, it can increase your appetite and lower testosterone levels in men for up to 24 hours after consumption.
It is believed that a “beer belly” is caused by excess alcohol calories being stored as fat. However, less than five percent of the alcohol calories you drink are metabolized into fat. The real problem with alcohol regarding weight loss is that it reduces the amount of fat calories your body burns for energy.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade 30 minutes later. Each drink contained less than 90 calories, and fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink. It was discovered that for several hours after drinking the vodka, lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat we are burning) dropped by a whopping 73 percent. It is known that alcohol is converted by your liver into a substance called acetate. During the study, blood levels of acetate were 2.5 times higher than normal after drinking the vodka. Acetate is burned in the human body as fuel.
Now the human body uses several energy sources such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. As a survival technique, our bodies use the source of fuel that is most readily available. When we consume too much alcohol, our acetate levels rise and our bodies then burn this acetate as fuel instead of burning the fat we are trying to lose. This is similar to the way your body handles excess carbohydrates. Although carbohydrate can be converted directly into fat, the problem that occurs with overfeeding the body with carbohydrate is that your body simply replaces fat as the source of energy. This is one of the main reasons why any type of diet (low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-protein, etc) can lead to weight gain.
In addition to the above factors, drinking alcohol reduces inhibitions and I’ve found, the ability to resist temptations to overeat when faced with party situations. When we drink to be a part of something, soon we are eating to do so too. Often the salty and sweet bad foods become harder to resist. The “morning after” is also spent feeling bloated from increased salt intake not just from the alcohol but from the foods. Feeling sluggish the next morning can often translate into a decreased desire to exercise and more overeating—you see where I am going here.
In a fitness program, you work far too hard to blow it with those drinks by the pool. Instead, if you must participate, try a seltzer with lime (best option) or seek out a non-alcoholic beer or de-alcoholized wine (they sell a great one at Trader Joe’s in Batavia). Even with NA choices, read the labels and pick the one with the lowest calories and fat.
I advise not attempting this plan with a “life choice” attitude at first. Just begin thinking you’ll give it up for a week. When you start to reap just a few of the benefits of non alcohol living like I have—better skin, maintained weight loss, increased stamina, reduced belly fat and improved cholesterol levels—you may never want to go back!