In this post we are going to talk about alcohol and fitness. We will also learn exactly how alcohol is processed in our bodies and how it impacts fitness and health goals. Don’t worry, it is not all doom and gloom. Cheers!
During the pandemic, many people are using the time reset and establish healthy habits and others have been trying to stuff ice cream into pancakes. It comes as no surprise that people’s relationship with alcohol and fitness has changed over the last several months. In fact, numerous major media outlets have covered the pandemic’s impact on our alcohol consumption; just google it. Alcohol sales have obviously boomed, as have sales of flour, toilet paper, tater tots, and Clorox wipes. Surprisingly, according to this NY Times article, in a survey of two thousand people, about the same number of people report drinking more as report drinking less.
How exactly does alcohol consumption impact our fitness and health goals? The answer can seem a bit muddled, but really common sense can help us see clearly.
So, why is the answer to this question partially unclear? You know how people say alcohol is all carbs? Well that is not quite the full picture.
Alcohol and Fitness: Alcohol is Not Food
Duh. Right? Think about it more though. Alcohol is not a fat. Alcohol is not a protein. Alcohol is not a carbohydrate. Even though it starts out as a carbohydrate nutrient, this is fermented away. Alcohol is an alcohol. Remember way back to high school chemistry? It all contains ethyl alcohol fermented from different sources. Beer, wine, Scotch? Ethyl alcohol, all of it. The sources from which the ethyl alcohol is fermented happen to be carbohydrate nutrients such as grapes, wheat, barley, corn, or potatos, and the sugars in these foods are exactly what is transformed into ethyl alcohol through fermentation. Alcohol itself is not a nutrient.
Alcohol is not a nutrient like bread, a baked potato, or a bunch of grapes, therefore it is not metabolized like a nutrient. Makes sense, but why? If our bodies do not metabolize alcohol like it metabolizes food, then how does our body metabolize alcohol? Like a toxin.
Alcohol and Fitness: How Does Our Body Process Alcohol?
So, how does our body process toxins like the ethyl alcohol ? If you have something in your body that is NOT food, wouldn’t you want your body to deal with it immediately and get it out? This is actually exactly what the body does. When there is alcohol in our bodies, our bodies prioritize getting rid of it. This means that before our bodies digest food, burn fat, or repair muscle, it will process and remove alcohol. Of course all of this happens in the liver. Forcing the liver to process too much alcohol too fast is where Fatty Liver Disease can result; this is important, but off topic.
This should give us pause… Before our bodies do these important metabolic tasks, burn fat, rebuild muscle, absorb nutrients, it will prioritize getting alcohol out. So, while the body is coping with the alcohol in our system, it is not doing these things… umm…
An interesting detail here though, is that alcohol actually increases your metabolic rate. Don’t get excited though. Your metabolic rate increases because your body wants the alcohol out ASAP.
I Have To Quit Drinking? No. I’m Gonna Cry.
Noooo! I would never do that to you! This is just where common sense kicks in. Most beers are from 5-8% alcohol (ABV). Wine averages from 12-15% alcohol. What is not alcohol in beer in wine, almost 90% of it, does have some valid nutritional value, beer is a good source of folate and red wine contains some antioxidants.
So, why is cutting out alcohol practically always diet tip #1 when people want to lose weight? What gets us in trouble is the activities and attitude around drinking. Stress = drinks. Beer = snacks. Wine = chocolate. One drink = 2 drinks and a nightcap before bed.
How Can Alcohol Fit Into Healthy Fitness Oriented Lifestyle
No secrets here. Just do the math! Think about this question: considering your current drinking habits, how many of your daily calories are coming from alcohol? 25%? 20%? Now weigh that out with how many calories you need to consume in a day and your macronutrient needs to meet your health and fitness goals. Considering that while there is some valid nutritional value in beer and wine, is it worth 25% of your daily caloric intake? Can you still fit in your protein intake, fat needs, and nutrient dense carbs?
If you are not sure what your macro nutrient needs are, check out this post, then you can come back and weigh in on how much alcohol you can budget in your diet to still meet your other nutrition needs.
Post climbing, post snowboarding, post surfing drinks are without a doubt one of my favorite parts of leading an active life. Each activity has its own special drink! Lol. Climbing outside, we always have the victory car beers. My go to snowboarding drinky-drink is an Irish coffee at lunch and a stouty-stout at dinner or some NE/Cloudy/Hazy IPA, so many names these days. Surfing, I love a Dogfish Head SeaQuench on the beach. I am also a fan of red wine on ice. So many ways to enjoy!
So, have your cake and eat it too! I keep all my fitness goals and health needs taken care of and relish victory drinks when there is a little cause for celebration.
Here is some gear for your cheers! Sets of 2 so you never drink alone. Or sets of 2, so you have to do dishes less often! Lol!