Bottoms Up!

With summer finally here (at least for us Southern Hemisphere folk) and Christmas fast approaching, a hot topic in health and fitness circles is alcohol. But can we enjoy a drink and not totally screw up our diet? And just how damaging is alcohol to our health? 

Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 80.6% of Australians aged 18 or over had consumed alcohol in the past year. The Australian Bureau of statistics states that "Alcohol occupies a significant place in Australian culture and is consumed in a wide range of social circumstances".

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMC) guidelines state that "drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury". The trend is actually a slight decrease over the past few years. In 2011-12, 19.5% of Australian adults exceeded this guideline. However, only 17.4% exceeded this guideline in 2014-15.

Fortunately it looks as if the proportion of adults exceeding the lifetime risk alcohol guidelines is decreasing.

Fortunately it looks as if the proportion of adults exceeding the lifetime risk alcohol guidelines is decreasing.

A prevailing attitude I come across is that alcohol should be avoided at all costs if trying to change body composition. However, many people are able to reach their health and fitness goals whilst still enjoying a drink. Having an 'all or nothing mindset' usually ends in failure. So, if you are going to drink alcohol here are some things to bear in mind: -

  • Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (see table below)
  • Calories from alcohol will take priority over other fuel sources (fats and carbs). 
  • So, when you drink alcohol, the body will not burn body fat for fuel until all of the energy from alcohol has been utilised.
  • Many alcoholic drinks can contain a large number of calories and can therefore push us well beyond our calorie 'budget' for the day

So, if you want to have a drink but avoid gaining weight, it would be best to reduce your food intake to 'make room' for the extra calories from alcohol. Unsure of how many calories are in your favourite drink? Use this website to find out. The best way to reduce calories is from carbohydrate and fat, NOT from protein, which will keep you feeling full & will help you retain muscle mass.

If you are going to drink, you can also consider the type of drink you are to consume. Shots, dry red wine, or spirits with zero calorie mixers will ensure your calories from alcohol do not sky-rocket. 

    The table above shows the respective calorie content of the 5 macronutrients.

    The table above shows the respective calorie content of the 5 macronutrients.

    So, as you can see, dieting doesn't have to mean complete abstinence from anything alcoholic. My preference is always for my clients to maintain a moderate intake than to try and go 'dry' for any length of time, only to find social situations come up, their will-power cannot win out any longer and, in their heads, they 'fail'. (this is usually accompanied by an almighty binge as no-one falls off the wagon with just one drink!).

    However, before you start uncorking that bottle of red, consider the following: -

    • You are consuming 'empty' calories that are devoid of any nutrients. You could have consumed the same number of calories from nutritious food and been far better off
    • Because of the above, recovery from training is usually impaired, which means your ability to train can be affected
    • You have to ensure you stay well-hydrated if drinking. Even slight dehydration can wreak havoc on the body, affecting both physical and mental performance
    • You have to be wary of food choices you make when consuming alcohol. These choices can often be impaired when slightly inebriated! 
    • Drinking alcohol can affect your sleep quality, which agin can hamper fat loss efforts and the ability to recover from training. 

    So, whilst alcohol isn't in any way conducive to losing body fat, having some alcohol over the festive period does;t have to mean the end of the world. The message here is to be SENSIBLE ABOUT IT! 

    • Remember that alcohol contains calories, and these calories must be factored in to your daily/weekly budget
    • Remember that alcoholic drinks vary considerably in calorie content. If you are unsure about how many calories you are consuming then check websites like this one.
    • Remember a couple of drinks won't hamper your fat loss efforts - so enjoy!