Can You Drink Alcohol & Lose Fat?
We’ve all got that friend who does it.
He drinks whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and it never seems to impact his weight.
He gets lean and stays lean.
Yet everyone else around him is steadily gaining weight.
Does he have amazing genetics or is it possible to enjoy a casual drink without derailing your fat loss efforts?
Fortunately, it’s the latter, you just need to know how to do it.
To understand how, we need to look at the calorie content of alcohol, from here we’ll see;
- Why some people drink and gain weight
- How to drink alcohol and still lose fat
What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?
When you consume alcohol, it enters the stomach and small intestine where it’s transported to blood vessels which move it into your bloodstream. Through this process, approximately 20% of the alcohol is absorbed through the stomach with the remaining 80% absorbed by the small intestine.
The alcohol is then metabolised by your liver where enzymes break it down into acetate.
How Does Alcohol Impact Your Health?
Alcohol is often associated with bad health and rapid weight gain and whilst there are some negative effects, research shows that it’s not all bad and there are some health benefits to drinking alcohol.
In fact, drinking 1-2 drinks a few times a week has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce the risk of hypertension, protect cardiovascular health and even slightly improve your immune system (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Now I’m not suggesting you drink every day, far from it, but I did want to show you that there are some health benefits to drinking alcohol. Arguably it’s healthier to drink occasionally than it is to remain teetotal.
Alcohol, Energy Balance & Fat Storage
Alcohol is 7 calories per gram which is nearly twice as much as protein and carbohydrate at 4 calories per gram and not too far from fat at 9 calories per gram.
However, research shows (6) that due to the high thermic effect of alcohol that the actual amount metabolised by the body is about 80% making the actual calorie amount per gram closer to 5.5 kcals per gram.
When you consume alcohol, it is processed by the liver and broken down into a substance called acetate. Acetate is toxic and as a result, your body prioritises the metabolising of alcohol above everything else. (7)
As a result, the digestion of fat, carbohydrates, and protein will be halted until all alcohol has been cleared from your body. A research study investigated the extent to which (acute) alcohol consumption inhibits the oxidation of fat, carbohydrates, and protein (8).
This study found that total body fat oxidation was reduced by 79%, protein oxidation was reduced by 39% and carbohydrate oxidation was “almost completely abolished.”
Now you’re probably wondering given this just how fat alcohol will make you.
The truth is whilst alcohol when consumed with food tends to lead to an “increase [in] food intake, (probably through enhancing the short-term rewarding effects of food)”, alcohol itself is not necessarily the lead contributor to weight gain, with researchers giving more weight to an individual’s “personality and habitual beverages preferences.” (9, 10)
If you drink high-calorie drinks every night in moderate excess, you probably will gain weight.
Not to mention your decision making when drunk isn’t exactly going to be 100% so you’ll tend to overeat as well as over drink which will lead to rapid weight gain if done regularly.
However, if you drink lower calorie drinks less frequently and account for this in your daily calories then alcohol won’t necessarily contribute to weight gain.
Remember alcohol suppresses fat oxidation which allows your body to store fat and carbohydrates more easily but the conversion of alcohol itself into fat is negligible if it happens at all.
What this means is;
- If you drink alcohol and are in a calorie surplus you will gain weight
- If you drink alcohol but account for it in your daily calories you will lose weight if in a calorie deficit
This correlates with the bulk of research done on this topic (11);
“Experimental evidence from several metabolic studies showed a suppression of lipid oxidation by alcohol and thus the enhancement of a positive fat balance. The non-oxidized fat is preferentially deposited in the abdominal area. The experimental metabolic evidence suggests that the consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol has to be accounted for in the energy balance equation and may represent a risk factor for the development of a positive energy balance and thus weight gain.”
Alcohol directly doesn’t make you fat, it’s all the calorie-rich food you eat with abandon when you’re drunk that does, i.e. a calorie surplus.
Fitness is what you do 80 – 90% of the time, not the other 10 – 20%.
If you slip up on your diet, overindulge or drink too much on occasion then don’t worry.
Instead, of spiralling into a negative, shame-filled slump filled with daylong fasts and restriction just focus on getting back to your normal routine as quickly as possible.
Try to reflect and understand why it happened, maybe you were particularly exhausted, and willpower was low, maybe you were celebrating something, whatever the reason is, if you can understand it and move on then you’ll be fine.
The bottom line is that unless you ‘re drinking every day for prolonged periods or drinking infrequently but excessively then the effect on fat loss will not be significant.
You CAN enjoy a social drink and lose fat.