To Booze, or Not to Booze—That is the question.
A widely unknown fact, even among those in the fitness industry, is that alcohol is the fourth macronutrient. Because it is not essential for survival (depends who you ask, right?), it often is not listed among the other three: carbs, fat, and protein.
The basic math is that carbs and protein carry 4 calories per gram, fat carries 9, and alcohol carries 7 cals/gram. But in order to understand why we simply can’t fit servings of alcohol into our allotted daily targets and expect steady results, we need to take into account what happens when our bodies sense the presence of alcohol, and why we need to subsequently apply a “fat tax” when we drink.
As early as our first sip of booze, our bodies essentially stop metabolizing and “fat burning” all the other nutrients we’ve consumed in order to eliminate alcohol from our system. In effect, we are delaying the conversion process of nutrients into energy and they are stored (fat gain) instead. Even though we can attempt to account for this delay by logging alcohol as a combination of carbs and fat (10 gram “fat tax”) instead of as its own entity, the fat portion of alcohol is not an exact science as we all metabolize macronutrients at different rates.
The sad truth then, and this is the case for any weight loss plan, is that if we drink, even in small amounts, we are delaying, if not reversing (in large quantities) all the good work we are doing with exercise and nutrition. Our bodies simply want it out, and will stop all of the good work we want it to do until it’s gone.
ALL of this said, the question that I get all the time is:
CAN I DRINK AND STILL LOSE WEIGHT? (How many of you just skipped the first four paragraphs?)
The short answer is yes. But you want to be mindful of how much and how often, and understand that if the scale goes up 1-3 days afterward, it’s not because your allotted numbers are not working.
Alcohol dehydrates us. So many of us find that the morning after cocktails, we actually weigh less and the scale goes down. This is because we have less water in our bodies. As a result, our bodies begin to retain water 1-3 days after, and that scale goes up even though we are abstaining and back on track, and it takes a few days to rebalance. The other common fallout is increased appetite. Not only are our inhibitions lowered when it comes to making smart food choices, but because alcohol can lower blood sugar over time, we tend to crave more food, specifically sugar and carbs. The more we drink (especially a lot at one time or over a series of days), the bigger, longer-lasting the fallout…
So the longer answer is this: if you choose to drink, understand that the repercussions may include bloating, scale fluctuations, increased appetite, and likely a slower rate of loss. If you are aware of and comfortable with these phenomena, and monitor and account for limited drinks occasionally, you can still make progress with precaution.
TIPS TO CAUSE LESS DAMAGE:
Bottom line: if you’re on a sprint to the finish line, the hard truth is that you’re much better off abstaining.
The best advice I can give beyond that is to ask yourself some hard questions. How serious am I about reaching my goal? Am I willing to sacrifice a bit to get there? Can I be honest with myself about this obvious deterrent?
The BEST thing we ultimately learn from taking inventory of our intake is how to eat well while optimizing our body composition and enjoying the things that make us happy. So if you're choosing weight loss and, yes, the choice is yours with this science-based approach of macro tracking, then choose the path that makes the most sense for you. You can have your cake and eat some, too. But if you're really hungry for it—JUST DO IT! NIKE style. Or to quote a slightly more cerebral source (did Nike just summarize him?):
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” -Leonardo da Vinci