The average person drinks 1 and a half units of alcohol per day. For every person that doesn't drink at all, that means their neighbour's drinking 3 glasses of the good stuff after a hard day! Drinking alcohol will slow your fitness results and could lead to potentially harmful health effects if used excessively.
Alcohol has a simple chemical structure and is rapidly absorbed through the stomach and small intestine. It can affect the livers ability to produce energy and our ability to balance blood sugar levels.
To gain an understanding of why alcohol affects us the way it does, it is important to know how it is processed in the body.
After consuming the first alcoholic drink, 25% of this alcohol is absorbed straight from the stomach into the bloodstream, with the remainder taken in through the small intestine. Alcohol is generally absorbed fairly rapidly, but its absorption can be quickened depending on several factors:
- The amount of food in the stomach (a fuller stomach slows the rate of absorption).
- Whether the drink is carbonated (champagne is absorbed more quickly than non-sparkling drinks).
- Alcohol concentration of the drink (higher alcohol drinks are absorbed faster).
Almost all of the alcohol that is consumed is processed in the liver, with the other very small amount being expelled through urine, breathing, or sweat. The amount of alcohol in a standard drink will take about 10 hours for the average person to process, which means the more that is consumed at any one point, the greater the rise in blood alcohol content.
When the liver processes the alcohol it is broken down by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH, which is contained in the liver cells). ADH then metabolizes the alcohol into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is broken down into acetate by another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase. In the final stage, the acetate is further metabolized to where it eventually exits the body as waste products carbon dioxide and water.
At Results Room we always count an alcoholic drink as a diversion (a fake food) for the following reasons...
1. Alcohol is an empty calorie and has no nutritional density
The other macronutrients we rely on to provide nutrition for our bodies are protein and carbohydrate (both 4 calories per gram) and fat (9 calories per gram), while alcohol provides 7 calories per gram, but with absolutely no nutritional benefit (don't be distracted by the fact fat provides us more energy, because it also provides huge nutritional benefits when eaten from real food sources).
Alcohol provides no useful nutrition and nearly the same calories as fat. A heavy reliance on alcohol can lead to malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies as point no. 2 mentions. It should never replace a results on a plate meal for this reason.
2. Alcohol displaces real food
This goes hand in hand with point 1. Whenever we choose to eat or drink anything, we are giving up eating or drinking something else - perhaps a healthier option. For every alcoholic drink we consume we are not consuming any health-giving fluids or foods, such as vegetables, fruits, or quality fats and proteins.
This offsetting of real food in favour of alcohol can lead to the same malnourishment issues as above.
The below graphic doesn't use particularly good food comparisons. If we exchanged the fake foods shown for real foods the equivalent in food would be even larger. But it gives a good visual indicator as to just how many empty calories we're getting when we drink, and how much activity is required to work it off.
3. Alcohol lowers testosterone
Levels of testosterone (sex hormone) are reduced when alcohol is consumed. Testosterone levels help promote fat loss and having these levels reduced will tend to slow body fat loss. Also, testosterone as an anabolic (growth) hormone, contributes to gains in lean muscle mass. Lowered testosterone means fewer muscle gains, and less muscle means a lowered metabolic rate.
A lower metabolic rate will make the job of losing fat even harder as this is what governs the way we use energy. People with a higher metabolic rate will burn more calories while they are resting. By interfering with testosterone production, alcohol indirectly causes the body to lower its metabolic rate (and thus the rate at which it uses energy).
4. Alcohol increases appetite
Drinking alcohol results in a rapid rise in blood sugar. This causes the pancreas to release insulin which circulates in an attempt to balance the blood sugar levels out. Once the insulin has done its job this can leave us hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) resulting in significant hunger pangs and a tendency to overeat.
5. Alcohol can damage the stomach, kidneys, and liver
As well as other organs in the body (shown below), alcohol can have an irritating effect on the lining of the stomach and gradually weaken the kidneys and liver, leading to serious health problems. Any weakening of the stomach will lessen the rate and efficiency at which food can be digested, which will ultimately interfere with a persons healthy metabolism and the weight loss process.
These 5 points mentioned don't even begin to delve into the many darker more embarrassing reasons you should drink less:
Point 6 - no, you're still not a good dancer, only now you also have a twisted ankle.
Point 7 - you're actually less attractive when drunk, and every person at this party does NOT fancy you.
Point 8 - it's great that you "love me man", but I realised that after the 20th time you told me
As with all drugs, alcohol should be consumed responsibly. We at Results Room still allow for occasional alcohol through diversions in our Real Food Programme. Contact us with 'real food' next to your name in order to learn more.