Alcohol 101

Alcohol addiction (any addiction for that matter) is bad for health. Period.

While some of us drink nonstop to forget some great tragedy in life, most of us drink for fun. This post is for the second case. Chronic drinkers and addicts please go here.

You down a few shots of tequila and in about 30mins… Boom!… you’re smarter than the sober ones, you’re more handsome than your model friend, you’re stronger than the bouncer in the club and you can speak every language there is… including your dog’s. What is this mystery substance that makes you do stuff you normally wouldn’t do to save your life?

The alcohol we refer to when we’re talking about getting hammered is actually Ethanol  (C2H5OH).  It is for all practical purposes a psychoactive drug and it has a depressant effect on the consumer. Depressants decelerate central nervous functions which causes some messages that need to go to the brain to be slowed and/or blocked. This is why you walk funny, speak gibberish and feel like Neo when you turn your head fast.

The Bad:

  • Ethanol inhibits the secretion of vasopressin from the posterior pituitary gland causing severe dehydration when heavy amounts of alcohol are consumed.
  • There’s evidence that alcohol consumption can raise the risk of certain cancers, particularly breast cancer in women and cancer of the head, neck and esophagus in both genders. Read more here.
  • This study says that getting drunk at least once a month puts women at a significantly increased risk of heart attack and I doubt that the verdict is any different for men.

The Good:

  • One study found that men who drank moderate amounts of alcohol three or more times a week were up to 35% less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers, and men who increased their alcohol consumption by one drink a day over the 12 years of the study had a 22% lower risk of heart attack.
  • British Heart Foundation says daily intake of 1-2 units of alcohol (2-4 oz of wine) is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease in men over 40 and post menopausal women.

So from a long term health stand point there are both pros and cons to alcohol consumption and it’s hard to say if one overshadows the other.  But, like everything else, alcohol consumption in moderation seems to do more good than bad.

What about from a fat loss/body composition perspective?

First of all, alcohol is wacky in a couple of ways.

  • Alcohol does not belong to carbs or proteins or fats and has 7.1 calories per gram (1 gram of carbs = 4 calories, 1 gram of protein = 4 calories and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories).
  • When you consume alcohol it goes from the stomach to the blood to the liver and gets converted into acetate by enzymes in the liver. Now once the acetate is released into your bloodstream, the body seems to want to burn this for energy instead of burning fat (or carbs).
  • Despite  this, alcohol consumption does not seem to result in increased body weight. Read here for more.

So it’s fairly conclusive that alcohol consumption by itself doesn’t cause fat gain. So what does then?

  • We all know about the ‘beer belly’. What we dont know is that the belly from drinking gallons of beer is mainly due to the monstrous load of carbs from the beer than the alcohol content in the beer.
  • One study shows that alcohol consumption increases appetite. With the increased appetite and compromised common sense due to the psychoactive nature of alcohol we end up with truckloads of french fries and chicken wings in our tummies.
  • Downing multiple cocktails is the equivalent of downing liters of soft drinks and/or fruit juices! We know soft drinks and fruits juices are basically liquid sugar… and we also know sugar causes fat gain. Mixing spirits with soft drinks or other juices have the same net effect.

Obviously, not getting sozzled is the best option for health reasons and to avoid fat gain… but that ain’t gonna happen now is it?! So what’s the solution?

1. Watch the carbs in your choice of alcohol. Choose your liquor wisely. Remember a drinking night will involve 5-10 drinks and the carbs/calories add up!

2. Stay away from cocktails. Tasty but definitely not worth the flab in the mid section.

3. If you’re a fan of hard liquor/spirits, stick to ‘neat’ or ‘on the rocks’. Granted it is a drinking night – still no reason to chug liters of soda!

4. If you’re drinking at a bar stay away from the junk food. Eat before you go to the bar. Bar food blows and you don’t want to pay half your week’s salary for sucky food anyways.

5. If you have to eat something when you drink (and you definitely should if you want to avoid a messed up stomach and a hangover) eat some cheese and drink plenty of water. This will keep you up and about the next morning. Some awesome stuff about hangover cures here.

6. If you’re very serious about your fat loss but equally serious about getting leathered then you have to listen to Martin Berkhan.


3 responses to “Alcohol 101

  1. Divya March 31, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Raj, does this mean that one can enjoy 3-4 shots of vodka with salt&lime once a month w/o even remotely worrying about weight and fat loss?

  2. Pingback: The future of health & fitness « Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

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