Is Alcohol Bad For Weight Loss?

Is Alcohol Bad For Weight Loss?

Are you happy? Sad? Did your team just lose? Did your team just win? Well, whatever it is, I'm sure you  can drink to it!

Whether it be sports games, social events, holidays, birthdays, or just about any other get together, you can bet a bottle of tequila that there will be alcohol around. But, is alcohol bad for weight loss?

Drinking alcohol doesn't inherently make you gain weight, however, in this article you will see how calories vary dramatically between drinks, how alcohol effects weight loss and body composition independent of calories, and how to drink in moderation while still achieving your weight loss goal.

weight loss calories and alcohol.jpg

How Many Calories are in Alcohol?

Let's first  examine how many calories are in alcohol compared to that of protein, carbs, and fat.

·         Fat= 9 calories per gram

·         Alcohol= 7 calories per gram

·         Carbohydrates= 4 calories per gram

·         Protein= 4 calories per gram

As you can see, alcohol has almost double the calories per gram than carbs or protein, but fewer than fat. Unlike others on the list, alcohol does not provide nutrients, and therefore, it is not considered a macronutrient.

Now let's see how this translates into calories in our favorite alcoholic beverages.

·         Regular Beer (12 fl.oz)= 153 calories; light beer = 103 calories

·         Gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila (1.5 fl. oz, shot)= 97 calories

·         Red wine (5 fl. oz) = 125 calories, white wine= 121 calories

·         Champagne (4 fl. oz)= 84 calories

·         Martini (2.25 fl oz)= 124 calories

·         Mojito (6 fl. oz)= 143 calories

·         Margarita (4 fl. oz)= 168 calories

·         Pina Colada (9 fl. oz)= 490 calories

I can hear some of you now, "Sh**! Who drinks only 4 ounces of margarita?!"

The important thing to really look at here is the serving size. Let face it, sometimes our hands get a little heavy, and we don't exactly pour actual serving sizes do we? Where my Mexicans at!?   

This is where things get tricky and harder to track. For instance, using the margarita example and assuming you get a 12oz glass, actually, no that's lame, lets macho size it! You now have a 18oz glass, minus the ice, which will provide about 9oz of actual margarita. So, that cute little proper serving size of 4 ounces for 168 calories is more realistically closer to 9oz for  400 calories. And, this is assuming you only have 1 margarita (boring).

Another good example is when people pour "a glass of wine", and they fill up the entire glass. Where my mom's at!? Now if the glass fits 10 fl. oz, and you fill it to the rim, then yes, technically, you poured a glass of wine but you poured 2 serving sizes of wine. You can trick yourself all you want, but you aint trickin' dem calories. Excuse my improper language, I'm a little buzzed right now; anyway. 

Let this soak in for a minute, and think about when you say "I've only had 3 drinks". What drinks are you talking about? "3 drinks" can mean anywhere from 300-900+ calories. That large variance alone could be the difference between losing weight or gaining weight.

What is the best alcohol for weight loss?

Your best choices are going to be the those which contain the least calories.

A simple rule of thumb for mixed drinks is to try to limit the caloric intake to the actual alcohol itself, and avoid calories from extra things added to the alcohol such as:

·         Tonic

·         Syrup flavors

·         Sodas

·         Simple syrup

·         Juice

Instead, mix them with:

·         Club soda

·         Diet soda

·         Water

·         Any other non-caloric mixer

A good rule of thumb when it comes to beer is to remember that a lot of the variance in calories come from the alcohol content itself. This means that the higher the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) the beer has, then the more calories it will have. For example, a 4% beer such as bud light, will have around half the calories of a 8% beer in the same amount of volume of beer (12 fl.oz).

So, what should I drink?:

Reach for these

·         Gin, rum, whiskey, vodka, or tequila as a shot or mixed with a non-caloric mixer (club soda, water, diet soda, etc).

·         Champagne

·         Red or White wine

·         Martini, without sweeteners

·         Light beer

Stay away from these

·         Margaritas

·         Daiquiris

·         Pina coladas

·         Long island ice teas

·         "Heavy" beers with high %ABV

At the end of the day, what is going to matter for your weight loss is your total caloric intake for the day. So, with that in mind, you can have drinks from the "stay away from these" category, but you will be using more of your calories for the same, or less, amount of alcohol.

Why do that? For example, I could have that 9oz margarita for 400 calories or I could have 2 rum and diets, or 2 light beers for practically the same amount of alcohol serving sizes but 200 less calories. Or, if I am trying to get my buzz on that night, than I can have 4 rum and diets for those 400 calories, but double the servings of alcohol compared to the margarita. Hmm, decisions, decisions.

 I will get more into how the decision isn't quite that easy later in the blog.

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Beyond The Calories

Now that we have covered how to navigate through making wiser decisions on alcohol, in terms of calories, let's see how alcohol can affect weight loss in other ways.

I'd like to note that for most people these following effects will only be detrimental to your weight loss goal when the drinking is either acute heavy drinking or chronic drinking. Nonetheless, they illustrate nicely the effects alcohol can have on weight loss and body composition, independent of calories.

Effects of alcohol on  metabolism

Unlike fats, carbs, or protein,  alcohol is a unique calorie source in that our body has no way of storing its excess calories. What this means is that alcohol metabolism must take precedence over any other macronutrient in order to get rid of it quickly, because too much in the body is toxic for several organs.

Consequently,  your body can't  metabolize fats and sugars as efficiently. In fact, a study performed in the American journal of clinical nutrition shows that even small amounts of alcohol drops whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) by up to 73%.

In other words, your body will decrease fat breakdown in order to focus on the breakdown and excretion of alcohol. Obviously, we can see why this is not ideal when our goal is to be increasing fat breakdown during a weight loss journey, not decreasing. 

Alcohol on Protein turn over

What is protein turnover?

Protein turnover is a normal process that is happening in your body 24/7.  It is the sum total of protein synthesis (creation of new proteins), minus the breakdown of old proteins (protein degradation) in the muscle tissue. In order to build lean muscle mass, you must end the day with a net positive protein turnover. In other words, you must have more protein synthesis than protein degradation.

If you have more protein synthesis than protein degradation, you will have the potential to gain lean muscle mass.  

With that being said, a study done by the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, which examined 106 total studies demonstrated that alcohol has an inhibiting effect on protein synthesis, which changes protein turn over for the worse. Furthermore, the reduction was in type 2 muscle fibers which have the most potential for growth. Some studies showed as much as a 30% reduction in protein synthesis.

Why is this important? Alcohol can directly and negatively affect  your body's ability to grow muscle.  

Let's remember that the goal of any weight loss journey is not just to lose weight. The aim should be to gain/maintain muscle and to lose fat.


Alcohol Effects on Hormones

There are two key hormones that are imperative to have working for you rather than against you on a weight loss journey: Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and testosterone.

We have all heard at one point or another, for good reason, that your body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. This is largely in part because HGH is secreted during your first couple hours of deep sleep.

HGH stimulates growth, cell reproduction and generation  especially on muscle and bone cells, making it  one of the most potent hormones for muscle building and fat-burning. However, because of alcohol's effects on sleep quality, HGH secretion is significantly reduced. In fact, a study in the journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism suggests that alcohol can decrease the secretion of HGH by up to 70%.

 Not what you want when you are trying to look lean right?

To make matters even worse, a  4-week study done in the New England Journal of Medicine on normal, healthy men that consumed  alcohol daily saw their testosterone levels decline significantly after only five days. Similar results were found in a different study by the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism which analyzed 106 other studies and found that 100% of those studies supported that an ethanol dose administration greater than 1.5 g/kg, showed a decrease in testosterone serum levels.

For those of you new to working out, HGH and testosterone are your best friends for building muscle. Not to compare ourselves with the behemoth Mr. Olympia-type body builders, but they typically inject HGH and testosterone for the purpose of enhancing their muscle building potential.

Clearly, my point isn't that we should go into these supraphysiological levels of testosterone and HGH like the bodybuilders, but we should aim to keep our body producing these two hormones maximally for optimal results on body composition during a weight loss journey.

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Putting it all together

Now that we have a good understanding of the caloric and non-caloric influence that alcohol has on our weight loss journey, let's see how to execute drinking without it destroying your weight loss goals.

1. Moderation

How much should you drink?

·         men- two  drinks per day

·         woman- one drink per day


2. Low calorie options

to recap:

Reach for these

·         Gin, rum, whiskey, vodka, or tequila as a shot or mixed with a non-caloric mixer (club soda, water, diet soda, etc).

·         Champagne

·         Red or White wine

·         Martini, without sweeteners

·         Light beer

Stay away from these

·         Margaritas

·         Daiquiris

·         Pina coladas

·         Long island ice teas

·         "Heavy" beers with high %ABV

3. Calories, protein, and fiber

This is most important in terms of weight loss. You have to  know your target daily caloric and protein intake goals.


·         men- multiply weight by 11-13

·         woman- multiply weight by 9-11


·         men and woman 0.7-1/g/lb


·         men- 38g/d

·         woman- 25g/d

Why is knowing this information important? Because whether you drink or not, these numbers are your number 1, 2, and 3 nutritional priorities for weight loss, respectively. Hitting these goals are not only optimal for weight loss, but they also ensure you are getting ample micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in your diet. What I am trying to say is that you can drink insofar that it doesn't negatively affect your ability to hit these above-mentioned numbers. Let's give an example.

 An imaginary client who is a female and weighs a buck 60 has the following target goals per day:

·         calories- 1500

·         protein- 130g

·         fiber- 25g

Her meal plan is set for around these numbers (doesn't have to be exact). So, what happens if she wants to drink?

First, let's put the calories of the alcoholic beverage she chooses into perspective. Remember that 400 calorie margarita example? If she decides to go with that, than she is only left with 1100 calories for the day. Not only did she use about a third of her calories, but she added no nutritional value, and is nowhere closer to meeting her protein or fiber intake goals from that 400 calories.

Evidently, this wouldn't be a great choice for her as it would put her in a very tough spot to remain under 1500 calories and still hit her protein and fiber intake goals.

Now let's say that she decided to go with a shot of tequila (I am Mexican if you haven't noticed). This would only use 100 calories, and would still allow her 1400 calories to hit her nutrient goals, which is a lot more attainable than doing so on the previous 1100 calorie example.

However, there are still more things to think about. Remember that her meal plan already consists of 1500 calories from food. This means that if she has that shot of tequila, on top of that, she will be at 1600 and, therefore, will be over on her target caloric intake. Thus, she will need to substitute something on her meal plan for the calories that the alcohol will provide. Simple enough right? But remember, it can't just be anything because the protein and fiber intake goals still need to be met.

Getting a headache yet?

Let's say she had the following on her meal plan:

·         white rice

·         nuts

·         avocado

·         whole grain bread

·         fish

·         skinless potatoes

·         eggs

·         mixed vegetables

·         apple

Which would be best for her to take out in order to fit the 100 calories of alcohol? Well, the ideal answer is nothing and don't have the drink, but the whole purpose of this blog is to be realistic.

With that being said, the best things to take out would be options that would provide the least amount of fiber or protein, and that supplies around the 100 calories that the shot of tequila would. In this example the best choices would be to remove the white rice or skinless potatoes.

A lot of thinking and work for just one drink huh? Keep in mind that we were dealing with a person who had 1500 calories. If your target intake for calories is more or less than that, then the more or less leniency you have to consume alcohol and still hit your nutrient intake goals.

4. Timing

Try to consume your alcoholic beverage at least a couple hours before bed time. This is to try to reduce the negative effects alcohol has on your sleep, and in turn, on your hormonal profile that affects body composition.  

Bottom line

Calories vary dramatically between drinks, and need to be accounted for by the actual serving sizes. Alcohol also has effects on our weight loss and body composition independent from just the calories that needs to be taken into consideration. With proper planning, however, it is still possible to consume alcohol and lose weight. The important thing to remember is that we still need to consume an overall healthy diet, stay in a caloric deficit, and hit our nutrient intake goals if we do decide to drink.

It is 3 o'clock, which means its happy hour at Azteca! Gotta go, have a good day!

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