The damaging effects of alcohol are well documented, and yet consumption levels are sky high. Alcohol is the drug of choice for many in today’s society, but with diminished performance, mental impairment, possible addiction, diabetes and liver disease as the potential prices to pay, it is a mystery that it is so popular. The consequences of alcohol consumption are not hard to come by, but one that is not as widely discussed is the impact of alcohol on body composition…

Exactly how does alcohol consumption affect your body?

How is Alcohol Processed in the Body?

First things first, to gain an understanding of why alcohol affects us the way it does, it is important to know how it is processed in the body. After consuming the first alcoholic drink, 25% of this alcohol is absorbed straight from the stomach into the bloodstream, with the remainder taken in through the small intestine. Alcohol is generally absorbed fairly rapidly, but the rate of absorption can differ depending on a number of factors such as:

Alcoholic Champagne for New Years Eve Celebration

 

  1. The amount of food in the stomach (a fuller stomach slows the rate of absorption)
  2. Whether the drink is carbonated (champagne is absorbed more quickly than non-sparkling drinks).
  3. Alcohol concentration of the drink (higher alcohol drinks are absorbed faster).

Approximately 98% of alcohol that is consumed is processed in the liver, with the remaining alcohol (between 2% and 10%) being expelled through urine, breathing, or sweat. The amount of alcohol in a standard drink will take around 10 hours for the average person to process, which means the greater the volume that is consumed at any one point, the greater the rise in blood alcohol content. When the liver processes alcohol, it does so in one of two ways:

–  For the most part, alcohol is broken down by the enzyme ‘Alcohol Dehydrogenase’ (ADH, which is contained in the liver cells). ADH then metabolises the alcohol into Acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is broken down into acetate by another enzyme, ‘Aldehyde Dehydrogenase’. In the final stage, the acetate is further metabolised to where it eventually exits the body as waste products- carbon dioxide and water.

–  The other way alcohol can be processed is a less common alternative, which uses a different liver enzymes. This alternative pathway, called the Microsomal Ethanol-oxidizing system, is used when the blood has very high levels of alcohol.

 

Alcohol’s Effect On Body Composition

Now that the introductory part is covered, continue reading below to discover how alcohol consumption will work against all of the effort you are putting in to eating healthy and hitting the gym each week.

 

Twice as Many Calories in Alcohol Than Protein and Carbs

At 7 calories per gram, alcohol supplies almost twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates (4kcal per gram) and only 2 less than fat (9kcal per gram). The calories in alcohol are “empty” calories because they are of no nutritional benefit, unlike the calories found in carbs, fats and protein.  The calories consumed when drinking alcohol are the first ‘fuel’ to be used when combined with carbs/fats/protein, thus postponing the fat burning process and contributing to greater fat storage.

The calories found in the average alcoholic drink are also relatively concentrated compared to many foods, which can mean you may inadvertently take in many more calories than would otherwise be consumed. Alcoholic beverages also contain calories from other sources, thus adding to the overall caloric intake; Certain cocktails, for example, contain fats, and wine and beer both have high carbohydrate content. Although the affects these various calorie types have on the body are different (carbohydrates release insulin, which can accelerate fat storage, while fats will be stored directly in the fat cells) the overall result is added body fat.

Group of sportive people in a gym training - Multiracial group of athletes stretching before starting a workout session

An example of how easily it can be to consume a high volume of calories from alcohol alone can be seen with a small glass of wine: a 5-ounce glass of wine will typically contain 110 calories- 91 of which come from the alcohol itself (13 grams), with the remaining 5 grams coming from carbohydrates. Although not too different to beer, given that the percentage of alcohol is so much higher, you will consume far less before becoming extremely intoxicated. Although not great in terms of how you feel the next morning, wine would be a superior choice to beer when becoming drunk and maintaining a smaller waist line!

In light of this, Dr Atkins- nutritionist and founder of the Atkins diet- recommends that, “if you must drink alcohol, wine is an acceptable addition to levels beyond the Induction diet (phase one of the Atkins diet). If wine does not suit your taste, straight liquor such as scotch, rye, vodka, and gin would be appropriate, as long as the mixer is sugarless; this means no juice, tonic water; or non-diet soda. Seltzer and diet soda are appropriate.”

Dr Atkins’ suggestions are valid ones, especially as he is advocating the elimination of additional sugars along with the higher calorie beers. Any form of alcohol can present problems for those wanting to shed unwanted fat to look their best so the best advice for those wanted to achieve their body composition goals would be to avoid alcohol all together.

 

Increased Appetite

As well as increasing fat storage, alcohol also stimulates your appetite since it provides very little in terms of nutritional value. A couple of drinks can lead to your inhibitions going out of the window, and you are therefore less likely to consider the consequences of a) the drinks you are consuming and b) the food you are craving after a night out.

Foods with high fat and salt content are regular accompaniments to any situation where alcohol makes an appearance. Unfortunately, these are also the types of food that alcohol actually stimulates one’s appetite for. (Have you ever had to make the taxi driver taking you home from your night out pull over so you can buy a kebab…?) As a result, this can lead to more calories being consumed and increasing body fat gains, which means you can say goodbye to the progress you have made with your body composition goals!

By drinking water before you go out, as well as between alcoholic drinks, you will experience an increased feeling of fullness and may help to prevent over consumption of alcohol. You will also find this helps filter out the alcohol in your system and reducing your hangover, and with less of a hangover you may actually make it to the gym the next day!

 

Damage to the Stomach, Kidneys, Liver and Metabolism

Alcohol is a by-product of yeast digestion, so it can have an irritating effect on the lining of the stomach. As well as this, there can also be a gradual weakening of the kidneys and liver, leading to serious health problems – and even death in certain instances. Any weakening of the stomach will reduce the rate and the efficiency at which food is digested, which ultimately interferes with a healthy metabolism and weight loss process. The liver – which processes toxins and breaks down fats for fuel – is crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition. Alcohol is at its most destructive during the liver’s detoxification process.

Also, Testosterone, which has a powerful fat loss effect, is reduced whenever alcohol is consumed, thus reducing its full potential as a fat burner. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone and contributes to gains in lean muscle mass. Lowered testosterone means fewer muscle gains, and less muscle means a lowered metabolic rate. A lower metabolic rate will make the job of losing fat all the more difficult. This is what governs the way we use energy. Those with a higher metabolic rate will burn more calories at rest. By interfering with testosterone production, alcohol indirectly causes the body to lower its metabolic rate (and thus the rate at which it uses energy) and directly prohibits testosterone from exerting its powerful fat-burning effects.

 

Still Fancy a Drink? Take a Look at These Tips!

Drink alcohol with a lower caloric value and a higher alcohol percentage (such as wine or champagne). Less will be consumed, meaning less calories consumed.

Avoid high-calorie liqueurs/mixers. These are extremely deceptive; they taste good because the alcohol taste is disguised with sugar! They will add enormously to overall calorie content. (Any alcoholic drink that doesn’t taste like alcohol can seriously impede your weight loss goals!)

If you drink beer, try a lower calorie or “light” alternative. Also, drink diet sodas with your spirits instead of coke or lemonade to significantly lower the calorie content of these drinks.

Spirits on the whole are relatively similar in caloric content at roughly 60 calories per shot which add up pretty quickly when having doubles.

The mixers are a very important variable when taking alcohol into consideration. Combine a shot of spirit with a glass of full sugar coke or lemonade (around 180 calories, 95% of these from sugars) and your typical vodka and lemonade could be pushing 300 calories – double the number found in the average can of beer.

Drink water between alcoholic drinks. This will increase feelings of fullness and may help to prevent over consumption of alcohol.

Keep healthy food on hand when drinking. As mentioned, drinking will release the inhibitions and cause you to forget your usual healthy habits.

If you can’t part with your drinking habits but still want to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, why not try one of our bespoke meal plans. Take a look here.

Effect of alcohol

Calorie And Nutrient Content Of Popular Alcoholic Drinks

The alcohol content of our most popular beverages varies, so it is important to know exactly what percentage of alcohol is in any given drink if you are wanting to limit “empty calories”.
· Beer: 5% alcohol
· Wine: 12% alcohol
· 100 proof liquor: 50% alcohol
· 80 proof liquor: 40% alcohol
The caloric content and nutrient breakdown of several popular alcohol choices follows.
Beer

One can of regular 4-5% alcohol beer contains:
· 14 milligrams of sodium (1%).
· 12.6 grams of carbohydrates (4%).
· 1.6 grams of protein.
· 14.2 milligrams of calcium.
· 96.1 grams of potassium.
· Total calories: 153 (includes 97 calories from alcohol).
One can of low alcohol (2.3% Alcohol) beer contains:
· 34.7grams of carbohydrates (12%).
· Total calories: 139.
One Can Of Lite Beer Contains:
· 14 milligrams of sodium.
· 5.9 grams of carbohydrates.
· 0.98 grams of proteins.
· 14.4 milligrams of calcium.
· 75.6 milligrams of potassium.
· Total calories: 105 (includes 78 calories from alcohol).

Wine
One glass of champagne contains:
· 2 grams of carbohydrates.
· Total calories: 85 (includes 77 calories from alcohol).
One glass of dessert wine (sweet) contains:
· 9 milligrams of sodium.
· 14.1 grams of carbohydrates.
· 0.1 milligrams of calcium.
· 0.9 milligrams of potassium.
· Total calories: 165 (includes 110 calories from alcohol)
One glass of reduced alcohol (6%) wine contains:
· 10 milligrams of sodium.
· 13.3 milligrams of calcium.
· 130.2 milligrams of potassium.
· 1.7 grams of carbohydrate.
· Total calories: 74 (including 66 calories from alcohol).

One glass of red wine (claret) contains:
· 4.4 grams of carbohydrate.
· 0.1 grams of protein.
· Total calories: 123 (including 105 calories from alcohol).
One glass of table wine contains:
· 7 milligrams of sodium.
· 4 grams of carbohydrate.
· 0.1 grams of protein.
· 11.8 milligrams of calcium.
· 146.5 milligrams of potassium.
· Total calories: 124 (including 108 from alcohol)
One glass of white wine (riesling, chablis)
· 5.5 grams of carbohydrate.
· 0.1 grams of protein.
· Total calories: 120 (including 98 calories from alcohol).
One glass of white sparkling wine contains:
· 4 grams of carbohydrates (all of white are sugars).
· Total calories: 93 (including 77 calories from alcohol)

Liquers
One ounce of gin (40% alcohol) contains:
· 0.6 milligrams of potassium.
· Total calories: 64 from alcohol content.
One ounce of rum (40% alcohol) contains:
· 0.6 grams of potassium.
· Total calories: 64 from alcohol content.
One ounce of vodka (40% alcohol) contains:
· 0.6 milligrams of potassium.
· Total calories: 64 from alcohol content.
One ounce of whiskey (40% alcohol contains):
· 0.6 milligrams of potassium.
· Total calories: 64 from alcohol content.
One nip of Baileys Irish cream contains:
· 5.8 grams of fat (3.5 grams of this saturated fat).
· 14 milligrams of cholesterol.
· 33 milligrams of sodium.
· 7.4 grams of carbohydrate.
· 1.2 grams of protein.
· Total calories: 121 (including 35 from alcohol).

One nip Of Ouzo (40% alcohol) contains:
· 11 grams of carbohydrate (10.9 of this is sugar).
· Total calories: 103 (including 70 from alcohol).
One nip of Schnapps (40% alcohol) contains:
· 7 grams of carbohydrate.
· Total calories: 100 (including 70 from alcohol).
One nip of curacao (35% alcohol) contains:
· 6 grams of carbohydrate.
· Total calories: 95 (including 56 from alcohol).
One nip of Amaretto (38% alcohol) contains:
· 17 grams of carbohydrate.
· Total calories: 110 (including 42 from alcohol).
One nip of coffee liqueur contains:
· 3 milligrams of sodium.
· 11.2 grams of carbohydrate (all sugars).
· 0.3 milligrams of calcium.
· 10.4 milligrams of potassium.
· Total Calories: 107 (including 63 from alcohol).

 

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References

  1. Buemann, B., Toubro, S., & Astrup, A. (2002). The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 26, 1367-1372.
  2. Borushek, A. (2006). CalorieKing alcohol information.
  3. Tremblay, A., & St-Pierre, S. (1996). The hyperphagic effect of a high-fat diet and alcohol intake persists after control for energy density. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63, 479-482.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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