Alright, let’s pop the top off this topic of alcohol, belly fat, how drinking affects your workouts. Psssst! Can you smell it…the berries, the wood, the barley, the lime… Ahhhh… Taste it. Mmmmm… It tickles the tongue and oozes relaxation through your veins. This is a good time. This is the smell, taste, and feeling of…TOXINS TAKING OVER YOUR BODY!
Sorry to spoil the article for you, but alcohol is toxic, plain and simple. I know you’ve heard about some of the proclaimed benefits – antioxidants from wine and the like, which I’ll address here in a bit – but the bottom-line is that you’re drinking a poison to your body and the negative affect that it will have has everything to do with the amount you consume.
Now, labeling alcohol as “bad”, “toxic”, or “unhealthy” is probably not a new idea to you. We know it really isn’t good for us, but we choose to drink it anyway, usually in moderation. That can’t be that bad, right? Well, part of determining how bad it is for you has to do with your goals. Alcohol is a lot worse for the person who wants a six-pack than it is for the person who is just happy to not have a belly lopping over their belt. I’m going to assume that since you’re reading this on a health & fitness blog, there’s a good chance you workout. Think about why you workout for a moment… Is it to lose weight? Would you like to build some muscle? Maybe you’re just trying to maintain good health or better your health a bit in general. Let’s first look at how alcohol is affecting your workouts and thus, your goals…
A renowned strength coach and educator that I follow named Charles Poliquin states, “Avoid alcohol after training because it will erase all possible performance gains and delay recovery. This is especially true for very intense workouts such as those that include heavy eccentrics, sprint workouts, or competitions.” Great, huh? That Friday night pump you got on before going out might feel good, but it got you nowhere in terms of gains, at least in Charles opinion. But, what does the research say?
The latest study on the subject published earlier in 2012 by the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research not only backed up Charles’ claim, but it also stated that you should avoid alcohol within 36 hours prior to a competition because the effects linger. Wow. What happens if you put multiple days of drinking together I wonder? I don’t know exactly, but I do know that in this study the rugby players that competed in a match and then were given dinner with a large dose of vodka in orange juice (alcohol content equal to 7 drinks – I’d volunteer for that study) versus a placebo, showed marked decreases in performance the next day. This included elevated cortisol (your fat storage hormone), decreased power output, increased estrogen levels, and poorer cognitive performance. Those that drank the vodka versus the placebo also urinated more, contributing to dehydration – a problem in itself as it relates to performance and overall health. Let me take you from one extreme (athletes) to another (non-athletes).
Another study this year, this one from Reproductive Toxicology, found the more male non-athletes drank within five days of the study, the more estrogen they produced. This significantly compromised sperm production and decreased fertility. Now, this is already the second time I’ve mentioned an increase of estrogen being related to drinking. Fellas, this ain’t good. If you want to look a little more female, especially with fatter thighs, keep on drinking that swill. Here’s how that happens:
Whether looking at the rugby study above that focuses on post-workout alcohol consumption, or other studies that have focused on more regular alcohol consumption, one thing that is common is the body turning testosterone into estrogen (called “aromatization”). Usually, with drinking alcohol, a significant increase is noted in aromatization, which again leads to low fertility, a feminization of men, and poorer ability to learn and react. Are those on your goals list? I bet not.
Women, you’re not excluded from this hormonal issue. If you want to lose weight, tone and strengthen your muscles, then testosterone is very important to you too, as is growth hormone. Men and women alike need these hormones to promote muscle growth, muscle recovery, and bone growth. Growth hormone is predominantly secreted in the early hours of sleep. What oftentimes happens to your sleep when you’ve been drinking during the evening? It get interrupted, right? Poor sleep can lower growth hormone production by as much as 70%! This is not good if a tone body is what you’re aiming for, especially if you’re worried about belly fat. Ah-ha! Now, we’re talking about a sensitive topic – belly fat!
Research shows that even minimal alcohol use will hinder belly fat loss. The research is much more conclusive about this for men. Wine may actually benefit women in their goal to lean out their abdomen. That’s not fair, but such is life.
In a study by the Journal of Clinical Nutrition of 250,000 men and women, it was concluded that a lifetime of alcohol use (even one drink a day) led to increased risk of greater belly fat, and those who drank beer rather than wine had substantially more belly fat (sorry beer drinkers). Other findings for men were as you would expect. The more men drank, the fatter they were. The more men drank, the more calories they consumed from food. There was also a general link between men who drank alcohol, smoked, and ate more calories and fat, indicating a possible relationship of unhealthy behaviors.
For women, the research was not so clear. The women who drank the most had the lowest body mass index, but the largest average waist circumference. The women who never drank had the highest body mass index, but the same waist circumference as women who were former drinkers. Women who drank beer rather than wine were likely to have more belly fat. As usual, the women studied were perplexing. That’s a joke. :) One reason the researchers thought might have led to less clarity in the findings about women is that they were much more likely to drink wine versus beer. In general, if you’re going to drink, should you opt for a glass of wine? I’ll get to that. I promise. Let me build my case for alcohol being bad with one more point before giving you any sign that green lights alcohol consumption.
Some will drink and mention that it’s not fattening because their drink is low in carbs. Guess what? They’re wrong. With the exception of red wine which contains about 2-3 grams per 4 ounce glass. Gin, rum, vodka and whiskey run between 64 calories per ounce (for 80 proof) to 82 calories per ounce (100 proof). All this with no carbs! First, there’s not a bar in America serving 1 ounce pours. Second, you don’t need carbs to have calories that count toward a fat ass. Not only will the calories from alcohol contribute to weight gain, but the food you generally crave from drinking to the point of low blood sugar won’t help you either. And here’s the kicker… It’s not just the calories from alcohol consumption (7 calories per gram of alcohol vs. 4 calories per gram for carbs) that contributes to body-fat, but also the negative effect it has on metabolism.
When you drink alcohol your body puts all other metabolic processes on hold. This includes fat metabolism, for those of you trying to lose weight. According to Dr. Mary Vernon, vice president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians and co-author of the Atkins Diabetes Revolution, “Alcohol turns off fat burning at the cellular level.” Now, you might think you’ll just trot to the gym the next day and burn off these excess calories, right? Well, first, if you have to burn off the night before, you’re not getting at the fat stores you already despise in the mirror. Second, burning off the night before is going to be harder to do because while your body was trying to process the alcohol, it shut down glycogen synthesis – a necessary source of energy for weight-training and sprint workouts. Sure, you can putts around on the treadmill or elliptical for an hour. But, how that contributes to weight gain is another topic to be discussed.
Now, with all this information you’re going to stop drinking, right? Uh-ha. I’m guessing at best you might restrict your drinking a bit after what you’ve learned. So, for those of you who want to make the “better-bad-choice” when drinking, here’s the gold you’ve been looking for:
- At most consume 1-2 drinks and do not consume any after a workout, unless you’re happy with that workout being fruitless
- Choose red wine. Some studies have shown red wine to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease, probably because of compound called resveratrol. This compound appears to be an anti-oxidant that helps with aging, as well as an anti-inflammatory and cholesterol inhibiter.
- Wines grown from grapes in cold climates (like Cabernet, or wines from Bordeaux or Canada) contain more resveratrol than from hot, dry areas. Pinot Noir has the highest concentration of resveratrol, regardless of the climate the grapes were grown in.
- Sardinian or Spanish red wines are rich in antioxidants that improve blood sugar management in the body.
- Be sure to drink water with electrolytes while you’re drinking alcohol as well as afterward. Rehydrating is extremely important, as alcohol is a diuretic. Coconut water would be another great choice because of the electrolyte content and ability to quickly hydrate.
- Get extra B vitamins and amino acids to support the detoxification of alcohol.
- Boost antioxidant intake to aid the body in recovery. A few glasses of green tea or a green tea supplement can be very beneficial in providing antioxidants and metabolizing alcohol.
- Focus on a largely organic diet with high-quality proteins, berries and green vegetables, while minimizing other carbohydrate consumption.
Bottom-line, your health and fitness goals will be tougher to achieve while consuming alcohol. Less is more. If you really want rapid fat loss, especially belly fat, make your calories count and avoid all alcohol.