Are You Drinking Away Your Fitness?

When we drink, fat and sugar burning comes to a halt. You may think this happens directly, but alcohol leads to an indirect storage of fat by changing your metabolism.

As someone who loves a glass of wine to relax after a long day at work, when I sat down to write this, I wanted to tell you the same things I wanted to hear:

“Of course you can drink a few glasses of wine in the evening and lose that belly fat!”

“No, having a drink or two at night won’t get in the way of your fitness or performance goals!”

I wanted to tell you how many drinks you could have and still achieve your health and fitness goals.

“Drinking a glass of wine a day will improve your ‘good cholesterol’ levels and decreases stress.”

“Beer consumption can improve your immune response and can reduce harmful C-reactive proteins.” 

You’ve probably heard it said, “A glass of wine a day is good for your heart.” Well, in 2018, a recent study performed by the University of Cambridge is challenging this theory. This study suggests, “If you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions.”

When it comes to alcohol, the truth of the matter is this: if your goals are to lose weight, increase muscle mass, or improve sports performance, your idea of fun may impede reaching your fitness goals.

Booze and Body Chemistry

When we drink, fat and sugar burning come to a halt. You may think this happens directly, but alcohol leads to indirect storage of fat by changing your metabolism.

Let me try to explain how: ethanol, the alcohol found in drinks, has toxic metabolic byproducts called acetaldehyde and acetate. Both by-products help create that queasy, nauseous feeling you get when you’ve put back a few too many. When you consume alcohol, your body converts the ethanol into acetaldehyde. It then turns the acetaldehyde into acetate and acetyl-CoA. This creates a problem.

Your body can’t store either of these metabolites, and neither acetate or acetyl-CoA are efficient fuel sources. Instead, you have to burn them off. So before your body can use other fuels such as fat and sugar, it needs to remove the alcohol by-products.

What does this mean?

Consuming alcohol has a direct effect on your metabolism, causing fat to be stored instead of being used as an energy source. Most of your hard work and sweat in the gym are going towards burning through the alcohol by-products consumed the night before; while sugar and fat hang around waiting to be burned or stored.

Keep in mind that alcohol has a high caloric density and can influence hormone levels. Alcohol contains 7 ‘empty’ calories per gram, meaning that these calories don’t provide you with any of the essential nutrients you need to build the muscle mass you desire.

Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can reduce testosterone in your blood and increase conversion of testosterone to estrogen, causing an increase of fat deposits and excess water weight. For women, testosterone fluctuation may lead to acne, facial hair and an interruption of the ovulation cycle. I’ll assume fat, bloating, acne and hair are not part of your workout goals, so keep these in mind before you drink.

Dehydration

In addition, alcohol leads to dehydration. Dehydration reduces blood flow to the working muscles and decreases physical performance so that the previous night of drinking will continue to affect you the following day. You know that muscle ‘pump’ feeling we all enjoy during a hard training session?

Thanks to the dehydrating effects of alcohol, you can say ‘sayonara’ to any sign of a muscle pump during your next workout! Numerous studies have shown a connection between ‘muscle pumps’ and muscle tissue growth; therefore, drinking multiple times per week could negate your muscle-building efforts.

Drinking Munchies

Alcohol messes with digestion, making it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients. As you flood your body with alcohol, it reacts by increasing adrenaline, which excretes sugar into your bloodstream. When you continue to sit and drink, blood sugar and hormone fluctuations result in an increased appetite and a metabolism primed and ready to store fat.

This is a terrible combination! The rise and fall of your blood sugar as you drink throughout the evening not only makes you hungry, it puts your body in fat-storing mode! Combine a ravenous appetite and a poor metabolic state with impaired judgment and the ‘drinking munchies,’ and you can easily find yourself on a late-night pizza excursion or voraciously devouring your kitchen pantry!

Recovery

Have you ever heard someone say alcohol helps them sleep? It’s easy to understand why someone might think this, but alcohol decreases your quality of sleep.  Although alcohol seems like it helps you fall asleep quicker, it has a negative impact on how deeply you sleep and your quality of sleep.

Consuming alcohol has been shown to reduce REM sleep and lower your body’s melatonin levels. Melatonin is required for a good night’s sleep. If you do not have enough, your sleep does not bring the rest needed for your body to repair. While this is a problem for sleep, it’s only a fraction of the problem. The most concerning problem is the impact that alcohol has on blood sugar.

Sleep

Not only does alcohol affect your blood sugar and appetite while you are awake; blood sugar fluctuations continue throughout the night. After a night of drinking, you may have experienced tossing and turning in your sleep, waking up hungry throughout the night, or waking up the next morning feeling irritable. Why does this happen? Excess cocktails mess with your blood sugar. As your liver tries to process and break down alcohol, it becomes inefficient at controlling blood sugar.
 
While it’s true that your glass of chardonnay the night before won’t go directly to your hips, your metabolism and body chemistry are in still in ‘fat-storing mode.’ Waking up in the middle of the hungry may lead you on a mission out of bed ready to devour every carbohydrate in the kitchen pantry, so your body remains in a constant blood sugar fluctuation as blood sugar swings beget more blood sugar swings!

The symptoms of low blood sugar become a vicious cycle: the next day you are tired, moody, lack focus, hungry, and lack the motivation to work out. On-and-On the cycle continues! So, after a great workout the previous day, followed by a night of drinking, this is why you wake up the following morning feeling tired and sore instead of strong and focused.
 
Sometimes ignorance is bliss. But isn’t it nice to know that the power is in your hands? You can solve these problems with a simple decision to discontinue drinking or by merely drinking less often. The benefits of your hard work and sweat could be diminished by alcohol consumption, and knowledge is the power to help you make healthier choices!

Drink Smart

According to a recent study in the journal Health Psychology, research suggests that on the days you workout you are more likely to drink. Why does this correlation exist? Researchers aren’t 100 percent certain, but people might unconsciously use booze to reward themselves for exercising.

If you find yourself in this category, keep your goals at the forefront and try to create new healthy habits. Derailing your fitness progress is not worth a few drinks. Armed with all of this information, here’s my advice to help you make healthier drinking decisions:

1 Avoid binge drinking, drink in moderation!

2 Choose protein-based snacks or meals with your drinks.

3 Replace the juice in your cocktails with water or stevia to lower the calories and carbohydrates.

4 Replace tonic water with soda water and a splash of lime in your mixed drinks.

5 Avoid the mix. Use tequila, lime and sparkling water in place of a margarita mix which has unwanted calories and sugar.

6 Choose a drier wine with less sugar to curb blood sugar fluctuations.

7 Search for lower-calorie and low-carb beer options to control your blood sugar.

8 Increase water intake to avoid dehydration.

9 Reduce damage and inflammation: Consider supplementing turmeric, resveratrol, and glutathione when you drink. These polyphenols and antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals before they build up in your system and cause damage.

10 Create new healthy habits to replace drinking. Keep your fitness goals at the forefront!