Alcohol's Effects on Body Composition and 5 Ways to Minimize the Damage



Outside of the small window of prohibition, alcohol has been a legal, socially acceptable form of altering your state of consciousness that everyone over the legal age can enjoy.  Booze is everywhere, it’s been handed out at church for centuries, served on airlines, even some grocery store chains are encouraging getting a drink during your weekly food shopping run.  During the earliest stages of adulthood, we embark on a 4-year pilgrimage to an institute of higher learning to learn how to consume, mix, shotgun, bong, shoot, and eventually regurgitate alcohol.  It’s a rite of passage into adulthood and the workforce where now we consume it to deal with our jobs and raising kids.  Meanwhile, the 30 lbs. that was added in the form of spare tires and saddle bags in the 15 years after freshman year of college is baffling those who made the decision to try and “exercise and eat healthy”, but still get drunk on the weekends or have that glass or two of beer and wine every night.  The issue here is that as acceptable as alcohol is socially, your physiology isn’t going to stand for it, and there will be hell to pay.

What exactly is alcohol?


Every gram of alcohol is 7 calories.  To put that in perspective, a gram of carbs or protein has 4 calories and a gram of fat has 9.  While most people think of alcohol as a carb, it comes with zero macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein).  It’s the definition of the term “empty calories”.  A US standard shot of vodka is 14 grams of pure alcohol that runs about 98 calories.  That’s 98 calories with no nutritional value and that’s before you added tonic water or some form of sugary mixer to the party.

How the Human Body Responds to Alcohol

When you decide to imbibe, no matter the amount, your body recognizes it as poison and its priority is to get it the f&%k out.  Usually, we burn carbs, fats, and protein in that order for energy.  Once alcohol is ingested however, your body uses it as the primary fuel source and shuts down burning carbs, fats, or proteins.  According to a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fat metabolism was decreased by 73% following 2 vodka drinks with sugar free lemonade.  Remember those nights in college (or last weekend) that you polished off 4 slices of pizza and 10 wings after getting shit faced all night?  NONE of those calories got burned because your body was trying desperately to rid you of the alcohol.  Guess where those calories go? Yup, directly to fat stores in your ass or gut! 


In addition to having a unique ability to pack on slabs of fat, studies have shown alcohol can crush your muscle gainzzz too.   Muscle protein synthesis (recovery from strength training) is decreased by up to 20%  and REM sleep is impaired further hampering your ability to recover from any type of training.  Also, when elevated levels of alcohol are ingested, testosterone and growth hormone production are down which not only effects fat burning and muscle building, for men, it can also lead to a serious case of “whiskey dick”.

Full Disclosure: I Drink

Before you arrive at the conclusion that the author of this piece is a choir boy who hasn’t put down his share of alcohol, it must be stated that the opposite is true.  Ever since my mother found a bottle of Goldschlager hidden in my closet when I was 16, I have been a drinker.  Through high school, college, and into my early 30’s not only did I drink, but I drank to get hammered, just ask the Morgantown and Baltimore City Police Departments.  I have never been a “every day” drinker, instead I chose to combine a week’s worth of drinking into 1 or 2 nights over the weekend.  Thinking back, while alcohol was probably responsible for 90% of the bad decisions I have made my entire life, it was also responsible for a ton of great memories (although blurry) with my best friends that we still reminisce about today.

I'm almost positive I was making that face for the benefit of the photographer but who knows.  This was taken a few years back when I needed a chaser for straight vodka. (notice the low calorie choice in my left hand)

I'm almost positive I was making that face for the benefit of the photographer but who knows.  This was taken a few years back when I needed a chaser for straight vodka. (notice the low calorie choice in my left hand)

As I made it into my 30’s however, hangovers started to get worse and require a longer recovery time. I was noticing if I drank on Saturday, I wouldn’t feel right until about Wednesday.  It was affecting my work, my sleep, and most of all my training.  Then having kids has taken me from a weekend drinker to an “every-so-often/special occasion drinker” where I am now.  No doubt, there are many other factors involved, but it bears mentioning that currently, I’m in the best aesthetic shape of my life which directly corresponds with my lowest level of alcohol consumption since I was 18 years old. 

You are going to drink.  Here’s how to minimize the spare tire and saddle bags.

1)     Limit consumption:  This one is the most obvious, the more frequently you drink, the more your bodies’ ability to burn your food calories for energy is shut down.  Stick to once a week, if you can’t figure that out, visit here because there might be a bigger issue you need to deal with first.

2)     Move while you drink:  It really doesn’t matter what you are doing, getting freaky at a club or wedding, chasing the frisbee/football at a BBQ, or beating the hell out of the dude eyeballing your girl’s ass at the bar.  The more physically active you are while drinking, the quicker your body will burn off the alcohol and start burning carbs, fats, and protein again.

3)      Stick to straight clear liquor:  Remember, a shot is 98 calories before anything else is added.  Beer and wine are more.  Every single extra calorie you consume while drinking including the calories in beer, wine, daquiri, coke, sprite, tonic, etc. go directly to your fat stores.  Plus, drinking straight vodka or tequila makes you look like a bad ass.

4)     Eat mostly high protein food sources before during and after drinking:  Protein’s thermic and satiating properties make it the obvious choice while drinking.  Of all the macronutrients, protein is the least likely to be stored as fat.  Think chicken, leaner cuts of steak, fish, shellfish, and sashimi for mid drinking fare.

5)     Workout when you are hungover:  The last thing anyone wants to do when hungover is exercise, but you’ve backed yourself into a corner at this point and your options are this: a) get fatter or b) workout hungover.  The goal isn’t to set any personal records here, burning off energy (in this case alcohol) is all you need to do.  High intensity intervals, step mill, hills, a long walk on the treadmill with a high incline,  anything that gets your heart rate up will do the trick.  Depending on the intensity of your hangover or if you are still actually drunk, lifting may not be the best idea from an injury prevention standpoint.  Make sure you fast until you’re done working out and then make a protein rich food choice for breakfast.


Click below to head over to my online programming page if you are interested in a custom 6 week strength and cardio program.  I only take limited clients to assure quality so hurry now if you want a spot!