How Alcohol Affects Your Fitness Goals


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‘Tis the season for holiday parties, family gatherings, and all-around good cheer. Overeating during the holidays can undoubtedly cause you to derail from your health and fitness goals, but many don’t realize that binge drinking can have similar effects.

Whether you are a regular social drinker or only binge on special occasions, here are four reasons why alcohol is not conducive to your fitness goals:

1)    Higher calories
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and proteins only contain 4 calories per gram. If you compared a 6 oz glass of wine with a 6 oz glass of orange juice, the glass of wine would contain almost twice the amount of calories for the same volume. You most likely consume more than one glass of alcohol in a sitting, while you probably wouldn’t have more than one glass of milk or juice at a time, so the calories from alcohol can creep up quickly. If you factor in the extra calories from fat usually found in traditional holiday drinks such as eggnog, the caloric difference between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks becomes even larger. Not only does alcohol contain more calories per gram than other macronutrients, it also contains empty calories-calories that contain no nutritional benefit or essential nutrients.

2)    Clouded judgment
Why does it always seem like a good idea to order Chinese food or stop at a late-night pizza joint on nights when alcohol is involved? On most occasions, you wouldn’t even think about eating some of the things you do while under the influence of alcohol. So why do poor nutritional choices seem so justifiable after a few drinks? Alcohol lowers inhibitions and clouds judgment, making it much easier to succumb to surrounding temptations. You may have full intentions of sticking to your meal plan before your evening starts, but throw alcohol into the mix and there is no telling what the night will bring!

3)    Hangovers
It’s common to crave salty, greasy foods the day after an alcohol binge to help ease hangover pain and symptoms. Alcohol depletes water stores and electrolytes, resulting in dehydration. The body craves salt when dehydrated and what better way to satisfy your craving than your favorite salty comfort food? Not only will your diet suffer when you are hungover but so will your workouts.

4)    Increased Cortisol – The “Belly Fat” Hormone
So let’s say you’ve made it through your evening drinking only vodka and water, without indulging in any treats, and you survived the day after. This means that you haven’t done any damage to your health goals, right? Wrong. Whether you stick to your meal plan or not during your celebrations, it’s the alcohol in itself that yields the greatest effects.

Drinking alcohol causes the body to produce a hormone called “cortisol”, also known as the stress hormone. This hormone interferes with and inhibits fat loss particularly around the midsection, hence the term “beer gut!”

If you are serious about reaching a health and fitness goal and maintaining long-term health, you may want to consider kicking alcohol to the curb. Some effects of drinking to excess are not reversible.  Alcohol has been shown to contribute to raised blood pressure, liver disease, kidney disorders, cancers, mental health problems, infertility, and dementia, to name a few.

Moderation is Key
Now that you know how alcohol affects your health, here are some tips to keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum this holiday season:

Drink sparkling or soda water – Sometimes it is the physical act of drinking or having a drink in hand that makes it difficult to avoid alcohol at a party. Being prepared with a fizzy, low calorie drink is a perfect solution. You can even pour your drink into a fancy glass with fresh slices of fruit. Chances are your friends won’t even know the difference. Watch for sugary drinks such as tonic water or zero calorie drinks filled with artificial sweeteners. I recommend low sodium soda water or unflavored Perrier water. If these options aren’t satisfying, there are many virgin cocktails that can be modified without affecting your goals.

Alternate alcohol with water – If you choose to have a few drinks of alcohol, try alternating each glass with a cup or two of water. This will not only cut down your calories, but it will decrease your hangover symptoms the following day.

Set your limit and stick to it – If you are going to drink, do what responsible drinkers do: decide ahead of time how many drinks you will have and stick to that number.

Sip your drink – If you gulp a drink for the effect, you are losing a pleasure of drinking, namely tasting and smelling the various flavors. This is particularly true for wine.

Choose quality rather than quantity Learn the names of fine wines, whiskeys, and beers. Learn which beverages go well with specific foods.

Remember that alcohol is a complement, not the purpose Sometimes we lose sight of the purpose of a holiday celebration or party and perceive it solely as an opportunity to drink socially. While it is common to drink at these types of festivities, the main purpose of a party is to spend time with the people you know.

Watch what you eat – If you want to treat yourself to a few party appetizers, try to avoid salty, sweet or greasy foods because they will increase thirst.

Whether or not you decide to indulge this holiday season, always keep your safety and the safety of others your main priority. Enjoy the holidays, but keep your fitness goals in mind when deciding what to drink this season.


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Krissy Adams-Schofield, RD, PTS, BScAHN

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