When Iâ€™m consulting clients on weight loss I often get asked which alcohol drink is best for weight loss. While itâ€™s true that some choices are better than others thereâ€™s a lot of trickery being used by alcohol manufacturers to deceive you. I figured it would be helpfulÂ to give you a quick course on the straight truth about alcohol and how it impacts your bodyâ€™s ability to burn fat.
Understanding The Basics: Alcohol 101
Alcoholic beverages are divided into three categories: beer, wine, and spirits (or liquor). Beer and wine are made by fermentation of plant material that contain sugar or starch. Spirits or liquor (vodka, gin, scotch, whiskey, etc) on the other hand is made by fermentation followed by distillation, which is boiling the mixture then using condensation.
Beer is normally 4-6 percent alcohol by volume, wine 9-16 percent, and spirits typically 30-50 percent. Just so you know if a liquor drink is 40 percent alcohol by volume it would be classified as 80 proof. You simply double theÂ %Â ofÂ alchol byÂ volume to determine the proof.
Don’t Be Fooled By “Low-Carb” Drinks
Many people mistakenly believe that a liquor drink like vodka is best for weight loss because it contains no carbs and very little sugar. The same thing can be said for “low-carb” light beers. This is where the trickery comes in from the manufacturers. The problem with alcohol has little to do with the carb or sugar content to begin with.
When fruits or grains are fermented to make wine, beer, or liquor the majority of all sugars are converted to alcohol. With the exception of dark beers thereâ€™s very little carbohydrate and sugar left in the final product. A 5 ounce glass of red or white wine will typically contain only 1-3 grams of carbohydrates. The same thing is true for light-beers and liquor drinks.
Just so you know, low-carb beers are simply the old light beers with a new label and ad campaign. The old Miller Light has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs. The â€ślow-carbâ€ť Michelob Ultra has 96 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs. Big whoopee.
The difference in carb and calorie content between light beers is so small itâ€™s not even worth mentioning. Donâ€™t kid yourself into believing youâ€™re making a big difference by selecting an â€śultra-low carbâ€ť light beer.
How Alcohol Is Used By Your Body
Alright pay attention because this is where Iâ€™m going to give you some straight talk on the truth about how alcohol is used by your body. Your body can use the following sources for energy; carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol.
Notice that alcohol is not lumped into together with carbohydrates. Itâ€™s becauseÂ alcohol is not a carbohydrate and getsÂ used totally different in your body. From an energy standpoint carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram, fat 9 calories per gram, and alcohol 7 calories per gram.
Your body draws from any number of these energy sources to a large extent depending on availability.
When you drink alcohol your body uses that energy first and in essence stops the fat burning process.
Alcohol gets converted by your liver into a substance called acetate which is used preferentially for fuel before carbohydrates, proteins or fat. Bottom line is when you have alcohol available for energy your body will not oxidize or burn fat for fuel.
Itâ€™s not that alcohol in moderation is necessarily a bad thing for weight lossâ€¦just know that when youâ€™re drinkingÂ alcohol you wonâ€™t be burning fat. And you’re likely to be in a “fat storing” state for several hours after you consumer alcohol. How long you stay in a “fat storing” state depends on how much you drink and how many calories you consume from food while you were drinking.
How Alcohol Messes With Your Metabolism
Make no mistakes about it, drinking alcoholÂ throws offÂ your metabolism. Youâ€™ll always use the acetate from alcohol conversion for energy over other nutrients first and what you donâ€™t use will get stored as fat.
A recent study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated how alcohol throws off fat metabolism. In this study eight men were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained just under 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink.
For several hours after consuming the vodka drink, whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) dropped by a whopping 73%!
Alcohol Turning The Fat Burning Switches On Or Off?
Remember losing weight is all about getting your body to oxidize or burn fat for fuel. Everything you eat or drink will either feed muscle and increase metabolism or feed fat and lower metabolism.
Your muscles will only receive energy from food or drink that has nutritional value. Alcohol is empty calories void of any nutritional value for your muscles. What alcohol you donâ€™t use for energy will eventually get stored in the fat parking lot.
Alcohol Artificially Increases Your Appetite
Itâ€™s important to understand that alcohol also acts as potent appetizer. Youâ€™re much more likely to consume excess calories from food when you drink alcohol. When you have a drink youâ€™re likely to have a snack or eat more at your meal. The extra calories are what really make the difference at the end of the day. What calories you donâ€™t burn gets stored as fat. Itâ€™s pretty much that simple. A “beer belly” is just that, too many empty calories from alcoholÂ being stored as fat.
SoÂ Which Alcohol Drink Is The Best Choice For Fat Loss?
As youâ€™ve just learned alcohol will always stop the fat burning process so you know itâ€™s always going to come down toÂ theÂ ”calories in and calories out” equation. The calories you consume from alcohol must be burned up for energy or youâ€™ll store them as fat.
Having said that here are my recommendations:
- If youâ€™re going to have an alcohol drink, do so with your meal or after. Youâ€™ll be less likely to consume excess calories from snacking prior to your meal or eat more food during your meal.
- From an overall health standpoint, red wine is superior to all other alcohol drinks and would be my first choice. Although it wonâ€™t necessarily â€śhelpâ€ť you to lose weight there are some benefits of having an occasional glass of red wine with your dinner.
- White wine would be my next choice due to calorie content followed by light beer and finally liquor drinks. I donâ€™t care that vodka for example has â€śno-carbs.â€ť Itâ€™s like saying a candy bar is â€ścholesterol free.â€ť It doesnâ€™t really matter. Liquor drinks typically have more calories that light beer or wine so theyâ€™d be my last choice from a weight loss standpoint.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day I canâ€™t say that an occasional alcohol drink is necessarily bad for you. Can you still enjoy alcohol in moderation and still lose weight? Absolutely, but it will always depend on what youâ€™re doing from an overall nutrition and exercise standpoint to burn calories and create the right hormonal balances for fat loss (when alcohol is NOT in your system).
My philosophy is that if youâ€™re doing enough from a nutrition and exercise standpoint to build lean muscle and increase metabolism you can burn off the calories from alcohol without it being stored as fat.
Tip the calorie scale too far from empty calories and youâ€™ll gain weight. Likewise, if too much alcohol is interrupting the fat burning processÂ you’ll find it hard to lose weight. Itâ€™s really that simple.
Having a couple glasses of wine every night after dinner is a recipe for being in a fat storing state through the night when you’re sleeping.Â If you do this don’t be surprisedÂ to see the scale not budge regardless of how well you’re eating otherwise or how much you’reÂ exercising.Â It all boils down to moderation.
My advice is to accept the fact (and it is a fact) that you wonâ€™t be burning fat when you drink alcohol. Know that how ever many calories you take in from the drinks you consume they simply get added to your daily energy intake.
How much alcohol you can consume will depend on howÂ many caloriesÂ you can burn off for energy without it being stored as fat. Can you have an occasional glass of red wine with dinner and still reach your weight loss goals? I would say yes if youâ€™re eating supportively and doing regular resistance and cardiovascular exercise.
Itâ€™s always going to come down to your goals and whatâ€™s important. If you drinking alcohol and not seeing the results you want then I would pull it out until you start losing weight. If youâ€™re happy with where youâ€™re at (from a fat loss standpoint) then go ahead and enjoy alcohol in moderation.
I personally enjoy a drink now and then and Iâ€™ll be the last person to say you should never drink alcohol. To me, the benefits of training hard and eating clean come with being able to enjoy alcohol in moderation.
Ok, now you know the truth about alcohol and you can make your own decisions on how to use it in your diet. Salud my friend!
Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personalÂ trainer, fat loss expert,Â speaker and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal TrainingStudios. Learn more on how you an receive a FREE no-obligations trail of his Charleston personal training programs andÂ experience the Shaping ConceptsÂ difference for yourself.