You Booze You Lose!
A frequent conversation with people trying to lose weight:
Trainer: How is your diet?
Member: Yeah it’s good, I eat quite healthily.
Trainer: And what about your alcohol intake?
Member: (Silence).. well..
It is that time of year when many people traditionally attempt to curb the excesses post-Christmas. It is time to limit or abstain from alcohol. Welcome to Dryanuary!
Most people know it is a good thing to do and will feel better for it but may not be sure why.
As the Health and Fitness Manager at The Hogarth alongside Ruth Wood, founder of Crucial Food and a clinical nutritionist who specialised in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, we will try and explain why it can be so toxic for your body and training goals.
Did you know that 11 million of us drink at levels that pose a risk to our health? As a nation alcohol costs the NHS £3.5billion a year. Whilst it may make some of us more fun it definitely has a detrimental effect on weight loss and exercise.
Alcohol will be burned before fat in the body.
When the body ingests alcohol, it is a substance it does not like, and unlike fat it cannot be stored. The body prioritises getting rid of these toxins ASAP. Meanwhile the fat is sitting there looking at you saying “What about me?” Postponing the fat burn can build it up. For men, it will generally be stored in their abdomen (beer bellies) and for women subcutaneously (under the skin). It is never there forever and if a change arrives like lowering alcohol you will in turn burn more of that fat, and that is before even exercising!
The empty calories alone add to the struggle and are above 200 in a pint, or above 600 in a bottle of wine. A shot of spirits, at around 60 calories, is the best of a bad bunch. It is not about never drinking, but you need to be aware of what happens if you do and definitely if it is excessive. Carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram whilst alcohol has 7 calories per gram but unlike the others it is without any nutritional benefit. “Alcohol is also considered an ‘anti-nutrient’ as it’s not kind to the gut. It can trigger inflammation” says Ruth.
Government guidelines suggest a max of 14 units a week which equates to six glasses of 13% wine or six pints of 4% beer a week or fourteen single shots of 40% spirits.
As Ruth points out it is not just about those extra calories in alcohol but the knock on effect,”It’s also the ‘hangover food’ that is consumed afterwards. So by cutting down on alcohol, you can naturally reduce calories and improve your food quality as you’ll potentially have less desire for high sugar and high fat, processed foods.”
Sleep and our mental state is worsened.
Whilst we may fall asleep easily after a few drinks, soon after we will enter our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep which is a lighter, more interrupted and less restful experience. We’ll wake up fatigued and with lower energy levels. Our focus will be affected and it is no surprise to hear top athletes eat, sleep and breathe for their success. It can apply to your chance of success in the gym too.
Ruth adds that “alcohol promotes the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA, whose main role is to help us to relax because as GABA is released the production of adrenaline is decreased. However, alcohol’s relaxation effects only last for a short period of time, resulting in disturbed sleep cycle and in turn may result in low mood and anxiety.”
As a depressant alcohol can affect our brain chemistry and also increase stress, anxiety and memory loss. The interconnectivity of mind and body should not be underestimated and they always help or hinder each other.
Dehydration & ‘The Hangover Effect’
As alcohol is a diuretic an increased production of urine and excretion of water from the body occurs. In turn this will dehydrate us. We’ve all had to “break the seal” during a night out and the repeated trips to pee leave us dehydrated. If we are dehydrated when exercising, we can feel more tired, dizzy or lightheaded and suffer electrolyte imbalances. This can most commonly lead to cramp.
When it comes to the dreaded hangover Ruth says, “When alcohol is detoxified by the liver, a toxin called acetaldehyde is produced. This can give you the usual symptoms of a hangover.” As a result our performance will be considerably affected whilst the body recovers.
Training performance and protein synthesis are negatively impacted.
We’ve all felt the slowness when recovering from a boozy night, and it will inevitably lead to underperformance. Reactions, motor skills and cognitive functions are all consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Not only can it lead to sub-par effort but our techniques will worsen and thus increase the chance of injury.
Post exercise alcohol intake can significantly decrease the protein synthesis impact. Protein synthesis is the process that occurs which leads to muscle building. Alcohol in the body, even if consumed after working out, can hinder the full benefit of these adaptations occurring. It’s as if you are running towards your goals but with a parachute on.
When it comes to weight loss and exercise remember if you would like to be kind to your gut, give alcohol the cut!
If you have any questions, please let us know in the form below.