When nutrition coaching and personal training our clients at Energy Fitness clients come in with certain goals and habits. Many of these habits are what may be keeping the client from ultimately reaching their weight loss or performance fitness goal. Over and over again we hear clients say “I’m not willing to stop having my drinks!” so then the clients and trainer often can become frustrated as the trainer knows the scientific reason and benefits to stop consuming alcohol.
Let’s look at the science aspect and why alcohol may be a the demon when it comes to a weight loss battle.
Can I drink alcohol if I’m trying to lose weight?
If researchers say that one drink a night is good for your heart, then having more must be even better is the sad (standard american diet…extended into drinks as well) story line that many tell themselves to justify the habit. I get it, a glass or wine or a cool beer at the end of the day to wash away your worries or stress but what about the stress it is causing your body or your chronic weight loss battle going on in your head. Far too many times I have heard spouses say how thin they were when they got married and one or both partners aren’t willing to stop drinking.
To really explain why the struggle is real for you then you must understand calories and nutrients. I did all the hard work of brushing up on the Kreb’s cycle and all those long hard words to pronounce so I will just do my best to give it to you as simple as possible.
To lose one pound per week you must have a deficit of 3500 calories so about 500 less per day. Problem is that most people don’t know the numbers. You likely don’t know how many calories you are taking in and most of you don’t track how many you burn. You may not even know your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn even if you were to sit and do nothing all day).
A general idea for what you burn would be to start with how much you weigh and add a zero to it.
Example: I weigh 125 lbs so 1250 calories would be baseline. I am very active and I have a lot of muscle so this number increases to account for that. I have had my BMR tested often and it’s around 1750 calories. That’s 500 calories more than the simple add a zero. That’s actually close to the amount of calories I consume daily or spread across a week my daily average to maintain my current weight. Men trying to lose weight would likely not want to go below 1500 calories and women not below 1200 calories.
Now is a calorie a calorie? not when it comes to alcohol
Alcohol can cause issues for your weight-loss and metabolism-balancing efforts because it is high in calories (second only to fat), and, like fats and carbs, is metabolized to acetyl CoA. When acetyl CoA is around in high amounts, the body sees no reason to burn other fuels. Pay attention to the above mentioned acetyl CoA in this paragraph. This means that if you are trying to lose weight and you consume more than your body can burn immediately that it can be stored as fat the same way excess carbs can be stored. To lose fat you will have to burn up all the alcohol calories and the carb calories then finally force your body to convert stored fat into glucose.
In college during my board of review for my Master’s Degree in Exercise Science one particular phrase stood out to me that I had to recite.
FAT BURNS ON A CARBOHYDRATE FLAME!!!!!!
Your body burns calories in this order:
alcohol 7 calories per 1 gram
carbs 4 calories per 1 gram
fats 9 calories per 1 gram
(protein 4 calories per 1 gram. Protein leads to little energy contribution in terms of fuel as it is not stored in the body and need to consume every 3-4 hours if you wish to maintain a healthy muscle mass)
Let’s do some math!
If a 10 minute jog burns about 100 calories and you can only last for 30 minutes at best and you hate running, so you do the bike which is half the calorie burn then you have only burned 150 calories. Well, one beer or glass of wine is about 100 calories and most people don’t have just one or when they drink.Most people also like to snack that spells disaster for weight loss goals.
Does that Mean I should Avoid Alcohol Completely?
You may need to avoid alcohol when you’re trying to lose weight, but we have also seen people have wine almost nightly and be able to attain and maintain a lean, healthy body.
The trick is to know what does and does not work for you.
If you want a glass of wine with dinner, here’s a tip…Don’t eat starch and fat with your meal and drink alcohol together. Make an effort to never combine the three.
For instance, have a piece of fish, a plate of veggies and either a glass of wine or half a sweet potato, but not both.
The truth is, small amounts of alcohol, (note: we said small) can certainly be apart of some people’s fat-loss formula and whether it is for you or not will take some detective work.
During your detective work think of abstaining as a way of treating your body like a race horse and keeping it free from things that could be holding back the reigns to see what your mid-section could really look like.
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Tonya Tittle, M.S., ACSM
Owner/Dir. of Training, Energy Fitness (established 2002)
ACSM, TPI Level 1 Certified, Rock Tape, Rock Pods (cupping therapy), Rock Tape Blades & Blades Advanced
FMT Basic, Metagenics FLT
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