Over the last couple of years I have wrote quite a few alcohol themed articles during the festive period. After looking back at a few of these articles I realised that they could be quite misleading to new readers. After all this is a fitness site but in these articles I appear to be promoting the consumption of alcohol. Today I want to set the record straight and give you my take on alcohol and whether I believe you can still drink alcohol and live a healthy lifestyle.
ALCOHOL IS NOT HEALTHY
I want to begin by saying alcohol is not healthy. It has been suggested that alcohol can protect against a wide range of health disorders including Alzheimer’s disease (a mental disorder that inhibits memory, thought and speech), cancer, diabetes and heart disease. However, there are 2 major problems with the studies behind these proposed health benefits of alcohol:
1) The Benefits Cannot Be Directly Correlated With Alcohol Consumption:- Most of the studies into the health benefits of alcohol are population studies so it is almost impossible to isolate the impact of alcohol. For example, a population who drink moderately and have low rates of cancer may also exercise regularly and eat lots of cancer fighting foods. The low rates of cancer could be linked to any of these lifestyle factors.
2) The Benefits May Be Due To Other Nutrients:- When you drink alcoholic drinks you are not drinking pure alcohol and sometimes these drinks contain other nutrients. This makes it very difficult to say for certain that alcohol is the only reason for the benefit. For example, red wine (which is often linked with a reduced heart disease risk) contains resveratrol (which may also lower your heart disease risk). 1 or both of these ingredients could be responsible for the reduced heart disease risk.
In addition to this, alcohol has been linked with a large number of health risks. Even moderate consumption can disrupt your sleep patterns and increase breast cancer risk in women whilst heavy consumption leaves you open to almost any health risk you can think of. Some of the main risks associated with heavy alcohol consumption are:
– Brain damage.
– High blood pressure.
– Organ failure.
– Possibly causing various types of cancer (including breast cancer, colon cancer, mouth cancer, larynx cancer, liver cancer, oesophageal cancer and pharynx cancer).
– Reduced nutrient absorption.
– Weight gain.
SO WHY DRINK ALCOHOL?
Despite all the negative aspects, there is no denying that drinking alcohol is fun. It is a brilliant social lubricant that can make you feel happy, relaxed and make social gatherings much more enjoyable. Although I drink a lot less than I used to, there are still times when I like to drink alcohol and I am not planning on going teetotal anytime soon. Birthdays, nights out and Christmas are all occasions where I drink a lot more alcohol than I normally would.
MODERATION IS KEY
In my opinion moderation is key when it comes to fitness. You do not suddenly stop enjoying all the unhealthy things in your life just because you have made a decision to be healthy. For example, I love pizza and always have done. It didn’t suddenly start tasting really bad just because I was working out. However, I know that if I eat pizza every day it is going to have a negative impact on my fitness goals. I don’t think I could completely give up pizza (it is just too damn tasty) but I can moderate my intake so I only have it once a week at the most (sometimes a lot less).
The same principles are important when it comes to alcohol. If you are drinking heavily every day it is going to destroy your fitness goals. You’ll feel groggy all the time (so you won’t be able to workout properly), you won’t get adequate nutrition from your food (as your body will be too busy processing the alcohol to process the food) and ultimately your body will break down. However, occasional drinking (even occasional heavy drinking) is going to have a minimal impact on your fitness in the long term.
LOW CALORIE ALCOHOLIC DRINKS CAN REALLY HELP
Even if you are drinking in moderation, low calorie alcoholic drinks can really help. 1 of the main problems with any type of drinking (even light drinking) is weight gain. Alcohol makes you gain weight in 2 main ways:
1) It Adds Extra Calories:- Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (g) so for every unit (8g of alcohol) you drink you add 56 calories. That is before you take into account the extra carbohydrates, fats and sometimes even proteins that are in many alcoholic drinks. For example, a pint of Stella Artois contains 232 calories. 159 of these come from alcohol but the other 73 come from carbohydrates (66 calories) and protein (7 calories).
2) It Slows Your Body Down:- Your body cannot store alcohol so when it enters your body it gets priority treatment. This slows down all the other processes in your body including fat burning. Any carbohydrates, fats or proteins that would have been processed if you didn’t drink the alcohol get stored as body fat whilst your body deals with the alcohol. The problem is that whilst your body is processing the alcohol it burns body fat less efficiently so these same calories create more body fat than they normally would.
Low calorie alcoholic drinks help you avoid weight gain by simply adding less calories whilst you are drinking. This means you take in less overall calories and you also store less excess calories as slow burning body fat.
Straight spirits such as vodka and whisky are the absolute lowest calorie drinks available and contain just 56 calories per unit of alcohol. However, if you find straight spirits too harsh you can try these low calorie cocktails or check out some of the low calorie drinks in the table below:
|DRINK||CALORIES PER UNIT|
|Coors Light Beer||71|
|Dry White Wine||73|
YOU NEED TO STAY ACTIVE
Drinking in moderation and cutting the calories in your alcohol will greatly reduce the impact alcohol has on your fitness goals. However, even if you are drinking straight spirits you will still be taking in an extra 56 calories per unit you consume. If you eat an average of 2,000 calories a day just 4 units will add 10% to your daily caloric intake.
Whilst you can change your diet to accommodate for the extra alcohol you are going to be drinking I really would not recommend this because in most cases you would be replacing nutritionally dense calories with empty calories. This could then lead to you missing out on essential nutrients which causes a whole host of other problems.
Instead my recommendation would be to stay active. If you are leading a healthy lifestyle then you should be staying pretty active anyway but if you are drinking alcohol it is extra important so that you can burn the excess calories. Make sure you get some exercise in on the day you are going to be drinking and try your best to get some in the day after too. This will help you burn through these extra alcohol calories as quickly as possible and further minimise the impact alcohol has on your fitness goals.
CAN ALCOHOL AND FITNESS GO HAND IN HAND?
Alcohol and fitness can indeed go hand in hand. You just need to stick to the points discussed in this article. In case you have forgotten them here is a summary:
– Alcohol Is Not A Health Food:- Don’t fall into the trap of drinking alcohol for health benefits. If you want to maximise your health then there are much better choices than alcohol.
– Moderate Alcohol Consumption Is OK:- Although alcohol is not a health food, moderate consumption is OK. This doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy yourself and blow off steam every once in a while. It just means you need to make it doesn’t happen too frequently.
– Stick To Low Calorie Alcoholic Drinks If Possible:- Alcohol is heavy in calories and slows down the rate at which your body burns fat. Cutting the calories in your alcohol can really help minimise the impact it has on your waistline and your fitness.
– Keep Exercising:- Even low calorie alcohol adds extra calories to your day. Exercising regularly can help you burn these off quickly.
Even if you do not manage to stick to all the advice in this article don’t beat yourself up. Drinking high calorie drinks all night, missing a workout or even having a full week of heavy alcohol consumption is not going to ruin all the other positive lifestyle choices you have made up to this point. In my experience there are always going to be certain times during the year (Christmas being a prime example) where the alcohol is flowing and your fitness takes a back seat. As long as these times remain exceptions to the rule you should be fine and alcohol can still be part of your fit and healthy lifestyle.
Now I would like to hear from you guys? Do you agree that alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle if you follow these tips? Do you have any other tips to share when it comes to alcohol and maintaining a fitness regime? Let me know by leaving a comment.