Liquid courage, Uncle Jack, party in a bottle…these are all names commonly used when it comes to describing our national pastime: drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is the main attraction at most sporting events, parties, and gatherings, but many Americans aren’t aware of how the first sip of alcohol affects their bodies internally…and eventually, their waistlines.
We all have seen the commercials touting low-calorie, low-carb, no-guilt alcoholic beverages—the ones we can drink while keeping our ripped abs intact.
What these commercials don’t tell you about are the sneaky tricks happening inside that will immediately halt the hard work and reverse progress made in your health journey.
We all know that alcohol is full of “empty” calories, that you should stay away from mixers with loads of sweeteners, and to be sure to eat something before you drink. While these sentiments are all somewhat true, they barely scratch the surface.
Below are the not-so-ordinary facts about drinking alcohol and how it can lead to added health problems.
What You Need To Know About Alcohol
1. Alcohol is poison.
Contrary to what we’d like to believe, alcohol is literally poisonous to the body. Once consumed, the body makes every effort to rid itself of the poison.
What’s more, alcohol directly affects your body’s ability to maintain healthy blood sugar levels by inhibiting the secretion of insulin. The insulin hormone is secreted whenever the body is introduced to a component that’s processed as sugar (think carbohydrates, desserts, fruit, etc).
If your body is unable to stabilize blood sugar levels because of alcohol’s effect on insulin, it will store those extra sugars in your body in the form of body fat!
Aside from decreasing insulin sensitivity, alcohol can also lower the body’s blood sugar when consumed on an empty stomach, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).
Working out naturally lowers blood sugar, so if you have as few as two drinks in a day and then engage in physical activity, energy levels will plummet. This lack of energy will be a detriment to your fitness goals and possibly cause even more life-threatening health problems…aside from the possibility of passing out on the treadmill.
Related: 5 Running Tips For Beginners
2. Alcohol will make you eat more.
A surplus of calories will increase your weight because your body can’t utilize those calories as energy but rather stores them as fat. In addition to the extra calories and sugar introduced to the body through alcohol, drinking during a meal has been shown to increase the amount of calories you consume by 20 percent.
In fact, the average individual will consume 33 percent more calories in a meal with alcohol than without.
The “beer belly” is very real. In fact, a study of more than 3,000 men who drank on a regular basis had excess amounts of belly fat leading to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. When we drink, our hunger increases, and with a lowered inhibition we are more likely to crave bad foods late at night and make bad food choices… a cocktail recipe for disaster!
Related: 5 Ways To Avoid Overeating
3. Alcohol will decrease your testosterone levels.
Men, listen up. Another risk of drinking alcohol is a decreased level of testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for muscle growth, energy, sex drive, and helps increase metabolism. When consumed, alcohol disrupts the release of free testosterone.
Think of free testosterone as the fuel in your gas tank – it should be available for immediate use to the body, which isn’t the case when alcohol is involved.
Further, the hops in beer are known to be extremely estrogenic. An elevated level of estrogen in a man will decrease overall testosterone. Bonus for women, though: hops are even being studied to lower the symptoms of hot flashes in post-menopausal women.
4. Alcohol will throw off your sleeping patterns.
Alcohol affects the body’s natural circadian rhythm. When a person doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, it can’t produce the growth hormone responsible for bone and muscle growth.
The result can be inflammation, slowed muscle repair, and increased hunger the next day. Then, you guessed it, you’re more likely to eat too many calories and derail your weight loss progress.
5. Alcohol will make your metabolism plummet.
Alcohol and the body’s metabolic function don’t mix. Too often, the focus is on the calories, carbs, and sugars in alcohol while overlooking how the alcohol is broken down in the metabolism.
Once alcohol is consumed, the body makes it a priority to get it out, which might seem like a good thing. But it’s not. Since the body can’t metabolize alcohol, it will put the brakes on metabolizing other nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
The body simply registers the foreign substance in your body and won’t break down any calories, making you more likely to store fat. Once you stop drinking, alcohol leaves the body at about .01% per hour, so if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 (legally intoxicated) it will take you eight hours to get all of the alcohol out of you. Only then can your body begin metabolizing fat.
Don’t think that coffee, a cold shower, or greasy food will help you get rid of the toxins in your body. Time is the ONLY thing that will help.
How To Drink…The Healthy Way
Now that the risks of alcohol consumption have been identified, don’t feel like you can’t ever drink again!
As a realist, it’s important to identify how to responsibly consume alcohol while minimizing damage to your waistline. Here’s how.
1. Never drink on an empty stomach.
2. Don’t drink before a meal, when you’re more likely to consume added calories.
3. Drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage.
4. Limit the amount of alcohol consumed in the evening, when it’s harder for your body to break it down.
5. Don’t drink sugary mixers. Instead, stick with water, soda water, or fresh juice.
6. Stick to a glass or two of wine. Just because it has beneficial properties doesn’t mean you can drink the whole bottle.
7. Don’t. Do. Shots. It’s harder to monitor your intake.
8. Set a limit, and stick to it. You’ll feel better the morning after drinking alcohol.
9. Drink slower. Enjoy it more and, hopefully, drink less.
10. Talk to yourself! Ask yourself if a third drink is worth undoing the hard work you’ve been putting into to achieving your fitness and nutrition goals. Odds are, it’s not.
Joey Thurman is a health, fitness, and nutrition expert and the creator of The Lifestyle Renovation, a website dedicated to helping people achieve their health and fitness goals. Joey’s work has been featured in publications such as BodyBuilding.com, Racked, TimeOut Chicago, RedEye, and American Global Traveler. He is a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) with the American Council on Exercise, a Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FNS), and a FITchef. Follow Joey on Instagram and Twitter at @JoeyThurmanFit.
Photo by Joel Olives