Alcohol and Diet

Lately I’ve been tackling the issue of alcohol and its place (or lack of) in my diet.  It has also been a question I’ve received from many of my friends. “Do I have to give up drinking?”   Living in and around NYC often involves many nights out with alcohol being a significant companion at most get togethers.  It’s what we do – “girls night out”, or ‘let’s grab a drink after work, let off some steam because we had to deal with idiot colleagues and bosses,  de-stress from our crazy day’, and so on.   Clearly I am never going to stop drinking completely, as it is my line of work and major source of income, not to mention the fact that I enjoy a glass of wine and even a nicely balanced cocktail, tremendously.  Wouldn’t we all love to hear that we can drink daily and still be able to lose weight? Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.  If you’re serious about fat loss and your athletic performance, alcohol should have a very limited, if not non-existent, place in your diet.  At 7 calories per gram, alcohol is the second most calorie dense nutrient’ behind fat.  Not only is alcohol high in calories and provide absolutely no nutritious value, but because alcohol is metabolized by the liver, the alcohol is not converted directly into body fat.  This is not a good thing as it may sound at first. As Tom Venuto explains it, in his fabulous book “Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle”:

The body has no storage capacity for alcohol like it does for carbohydrates and fats. Since alcohol must be detoxified as quickly as possible, the oxidation of the alcohol takes top priority over the oxidation of other macronutrients. So while the liver is busy metabolizing alcohol, the utilization of fats, carbohydrates, and protein has to be temporarily suppressed. The burning of fats is suppressed the most, because it’s at the bottom of the oxidative hierarchy. Hence, the consumption of alcohol will almost completely impair the body’s use of fat for fuel.  Essentially, alcohol puts fat metabolism on hold. It’s not your friend if you are trying to stay or become lean. When alcohol is in your system, your body will simply convert more of the food you normally eat into body fat. Regardless of whether the calories come from food or drinks, if you consume more calories than your body needs, the excess will be stored as body fat. Since most people usually consume their alcohol in addition to food instead of as a substitute for it, the accumulation of body fat is usually the result.”

Not only is the above pretty depressing, but alcohol in addition depletes the body of vitamins and minerals from other foods you eat.   It is also a toxin – which is why you feel like crap the next day if you consume “too much” – it’s essentially a poison that must be detoxified by the body.  Finally, alcohol decreases natural testosterone production, which is one of the main anabolic (muscle building) hormones.  Not a good combo in other words, if getting toned and muscular is your goal.

All of the above being said, how can one then include some alcohol while still leading a relatively healthy lifestyle? The first thing you must do, is always factor your alcohol calories into your daily intake. So while it is not ideal to trade in that healthy non fat yogurt or your afternoon snack of hummus and carrots for a big glass of Chardonnay, this is what has to happen to stay within your calorie allotment and not go into surplus.  Secondly, it’s important to stay hydrated, as alcohol is a diuretic.  Make sure to drink an extra glass of water for each alcoholic drink you consume. Limit your consumption to two drinks per sitting and don’t binge drink.

I can honestly and without shame (well maybe a little) say that in my “old” life I easily consumed at least one bottle of wine per night, no problem.  Today I never drink more than two glasses at one time, and certainly not every day.  If I do, I instantly feel it the next morning as if my body thoroughly rejects it.  I am not going to have a productive training session the next day if I overdo it, and I also tend to want to eat unhealthy foods. Hence, it’s a ‘domino effect’ that I don’t want to happen, because I feel so much better when eating healthy and working out vigorously.  I keep reminding myself of that as I reach for that third glass or feel tempted in any way, and it really does help, now that I know how bad alcohol in excess is for my body.

If you still are not convinced that drinking is not going to help you in your effort to become lean and trim – then perhaps you should ask yourself if you really want a slim and trim body THAT bad.  Perhaps you are not willing to give up your daily glass or two or bottle of wine, and would rather have that all too familiar love handle stay around your waist.  If you enjoy social drinking, by all means – go ahead and do it. At least admit the truth to yourself and be ok with whatever you decide!

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