Now.. as President of the Chardonnay Fan Club it pains me greatly to say this.. but in the battle of the bulge, alcohol is not your friend. So much so that, eliminating alcohol is one of my top tips if you are following a weight loss program of any sort.
Now this doesn’t mean you must abstain forever but there is no point in eating well, following an exercise program, and doing everything else right – only to undo all your efforts with a glass of your favourite poison. Whilst each drink contains approximately 100-150 empty calories, that’s not the only reason I recommend you opt for an alcohol-free stint in order to get the results you want…
Alcohol Inhibits Fat Burning
Studies indicate that alcohol blocks the body’s ability to oxidise (burn!) fat and speeds up its ability to store fat – YIKES.   It appears that just over 2 standard drinks down regulates fat burning by 73% which is bad news if you’re trying to slim down.
Alcohol Lowers Testosterone
So this one is more for the boys, and gentlemen – this is a biggie.
In one study alcohol was found to suppress testosterone levels by almost 7% in just 3 weeks. This is bad news if you’re trying to build muscle.
In another study testosterone levels dropped, on average, by 23% between 10-16 hours after the guys started drinking. This study also found that cortisol levels were elevated, on average, by 36% and growth hormone was heavily suppressed.  This perfect storm sets you up for muscle loss and fat gain.
It also appears that if you’ve had a good workout, and then go drinking – you make things even worse. This particular combination actually prolongs the lowering of testosterone. 
Many alcoholic drinks, particularly beer and bourbon, also contain phytoestrogens which – in combination with lowering testosterone levels, may result in the phenomenon we call man-boobs.
Alcohol Reduces Muscle Mass
Alcohol also affects the way your body uses absorbs and uses protein, and even small amounts can lead to decreased protein absorption which can, in turn, compromise your muscle mass. It does this by decreasing the digestive enzymes your pancreas makes  and, because alcohol damages the lining of your gut (stomach and intestines), it also affects absorption and utilisation [7, 8].
This is important for both men and women as your muscle mass is critical for weight loss because:
- the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is
- muscle is where you store your carbohydrate – the more you have, the more carbohydrate you can get away with eating and not put on weight
- having adequate levels of muscle is important for blood sugar and insulin balance (which affects appetite and weight loss)
Alcohol Affects Sleep
Alcohol relaxes us by working on something called the GABA receptor. This relaxing effect can certainly be enjoyable but some people may turn to alcohol for this purpose, especially when stressed – to detrimental effect.
Specifically looking at sleep – whilst a few drinks may help us to fall asleep quicker, alcohol actually prevents us from having a normal healthy sleep as it disrupts the second half of our night  and this has devastating consequences:
- because of the impact alcohol has on sleep, it significantly decreases growth hormone production (by at least 70%!)  – growth hormone, as the name suggests, help muscle repair and growth
- the interruption to the quality and quantity of sleep will also see you consume, on average, an extra 500+ calories a day – which is certainly not good news.  This is likely a compensatory mechanism by the body to find energy when you feel tired – but it does not help you in your weight loss efforts
So all in all, if you’re going to put in the time and effort to take the best care of you to get your weight where you want it to be – do yourself a favour and dodge the drinks, just for a little while.
1. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Nov;70(5):928-36. De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. Siler SQ1, Neese RA, Hellerstein MK. 2. J Clin Invest. 1988 Apr;81(4):1137-45. Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance. Shelmet JJ1, Reichard GA, Skutches CL, Hoeldtke RD, Owen OE, Boden G. 3. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 May;28(5):780-5. Effect of moderate alcohol consumption on plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, testosterone, and estradiol levels in middle-aged men and postmenopausal women: a diet-controlled intervention study. Sierksma A1, Sarkola T, Eriksson CJ, van der Gaag MS, Grobbee DE, Hendriks HF. 4. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1990 Dec;14(6):928-31. The pulsatile secretion of gonadotropins and growth hormone, and the biological activity of luteinizing hormone in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Välimäki M1, Tuominen JA, Huhtaniemi I, Ylikahri R. 5. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1996 Jun;20(4):711-6. The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and cortisol in males. Heikkonen E1, Ylikahri R, Roine R, Välimäki M, Härkönen M, Salaspuro M. 6. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):232-237, 1989. Alcoholism and pancreatitis: Does nutrition play a role? Korsten, M.A. 7. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):207-210, 1989. Absorption and utilization of nutrients in alcoholism. Feinman, L. 8. Interaction of nutrients and alcohol: Absorption, transport, utilization, and metabolism. In: Watson, R.R., and Watzl, B., eds. Nutrition and Alcohol. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992. pp. 75-99. 9. J Clin Psychopharmacol 16(6):428-436, 1996. Late-afternoon ethanol intake affects nocturnal sleep and the sleep EEG in middle-aged men. Landolt, H.-P., et al. 10. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1980 Oct;51(4):759-64. Effect of alcohol on sleep and nighttime plasma growth hormone and cortisol concentrations. Prinz PN, Roehrs TA, Vitaliano PP, Linnoila M, Weitzman ED. 11. Chest. 2013 Jul;144(1):79-86. doi: 10.1378/chest.12-2829. Effects of experimental sleep restriction on caloric intake and activity energy expenditure. Calvin AD1, Carter RE, Adachi T, Macedo PG, Albuquerque FN, van der Walt C, Bukartyk J, Davison DE, Levine JA, Somers VK.