Alcohol: Does it prevent weight loss or cause fat gain?

Does alcohol directly affect your ability to lose fat?

Alcohol is in our culture as a way to have fun, let loose, and be social. Our brains are wired to desire a cold refreshing alcoholic beverage after a tough day at work…

But, the truth is that alcohol, when not consumed in moderation (1-2 drinks a few times per week) has very negative effects on weight loss. Keep reading if you want to know how alcohol affects your ability to successfully lose weight and keep it off for good.

What is a ‘drink’ of alcohol?

Research considers an alcoholic drink to be about 15 grams of ethanol alcohol. Fifteen grams of alcohol is found in 5 ounces of wine, 1 1/2 ounces of an 80 proof/40% drink such as vodka or whiskey, and 12 ounces of beer. Because these are general guidelines, clearly some drinks may be stronger than others.

Every gram of alcohol that you drink counts for 7.1 calories. However, because you burn up some of those as your body processes them (thermic effect), the total calorie per gram is closer to 5.7.

Let’s say you order a beer at dinner. With 20 grams of alcohol x 5.7 calories + the total amount of carbs, you end up with a drink that contains 150 calories. The range of caloric intake for beers ranges from 64-250+. Wine and shots also average about the same amount of calories. Watch out for mixed drinks, because besides the alcoholic calories they inherently have, depending on what’s mixed in, you could be drinking an excessive amount of calories in just one drink.

What happens after your second drink

After your first drink, your body starts to get rid of the alcohol quickly using the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) pathway. In this pathway, ADH converts the alcohol into acetaldehyde, which gets further broken down to acetate. These by-products (acetaldehyde and acetate) are considered to be highly reactive and can increase oxidation throughout the body, but especially in the liver.

Because your body sees these by-products as dangerous, it wants to use them as fuel. This means your body will significantly blunt fat-burning close to 75% after just one and a half drinks and it will stop using carbs for energy. Therefore, although very little alcohol will be stored as fat (less than 5%), the fat and carbs you are eating have an increased risk of being stored as fat.

After your first couple of drinks, your brain also starts to increase its usage of GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and is a large reason why alcohol is known as a “depressant.” Over time, the GABA receptors get used to the effects of alcohol, which is a reason why people may need more and more alcohol to feel the effects from alcohol consumption. GABA is also the neurotransmitter, principally responsible for allowing you to stay asleep. Therefore when your brain uses more of it before you go to sleep, you have less while you’re actually sleeping, causing a disruption in restful sleep.

Alcohol also affects the higher processing areas of the brain, the cerebral cortex, while leaving the lower areas of the brain somewhat unaffected. This leaves you way more emotional than you would normally be. While doing or saying things you would never think to do sober, then you’ve experienced the inhibitory effects of having your cerebral cortex taken out of the equation.

While your body has started to use the alcohol as energy, your body releases anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) to help your body rid itself of the alcohol. This basically means that your urine volume increases significantly. If you’ve ever “broken the seal,” you know that the more you continue to drink, the more frequently you use the restroom.

In addition to everything above, a small increase in cortisol typically occurs with moderate drinking while testosterone levels will drop about 6.8% in men (not so much in women) Aromatase will also increase. Aromatase is an enzyme that helps to convert testosterone to estrogen and is obviously not something that is welcomed by many guys. (yikes, sorry guys..try again later)

After six to eight drinks..

As your drinking levels continue to increase, testosterone levels drop from 6.8% with 4 drinks to 23% with 8 drinks. This drop, combined with a slowdown in protein synthesis, can cause havoc when trying to recover from a workout.

In addition to that, fluid loss will generally become more significant, causing dehydration that might affect you for days afterwards. Finally, with heavy drinking, the breakdown of alcohol can occur for up to 48 hours after your last drink. This means less glucose is reaching your brain and working muscles, making you both more tired and quicker to fatigue if you do exercise.


Okay.. I’m not trying to scare you

Complete abstinence may not be needed while trying to lose fat as long as it’s done in moderation and not very often (think one time per week). If you don’t drink, obviously don’t start, but if you want to have a couple of drinks on the weekend, there is nothing necessarily wrong with having one or two.
In any fat loss plan, there are three main components that should be priority:
Diet, Exercise, and Sleep.

As stated throughout the article, a moderate amount of alcohol can increase total calories, decrease your motivation for exercise, and negatively affect your sleep. Despite this, many people can enjoy a drink or two, without throwing those three components completely out of whack.
Drink wisely. If you are going out on the weekends getting completely trashed and you are still wondering why you can’t shed those few extra pounds, you don’t have energy or just don’t have the motivation to workout…. uhhh now you know why…

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