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Which Type Of Alcohol Is A Better Choice For Weight Loss?

over 40 fat loss Nov 21, 2023

When I’m consulting clients on their fitness and body composition goals the subject of alcohol invariably comes up. In all fairness, it needs to as alcohol is too important of a variable to not address. I’ve found individuals who do consume alcohol will fall into one of three different categories.

The first category are those individuals who tell me upfront about the couple glasses of wine enjoyed each evening at their “happy hour,” which they boldly declare they have no intention of giving up, nor should I even bother to ask them to.

Well, alrighty then and fair enough. I simply let them know they shouldn’t expect to see much in the way of getting leaner and firming up and continue the discussion. No sense dancing around it or teaching someone who doesn’t want to listen.

The second category are the ones who tell me they occasionally have a drink, but they’re open to adjusting consumption or quitting altogether for a period to see the results they want. This group tends to see the most significant changes, no surprises, as they’re open to coaching.

The third category are the ones who downplay or understate their alcohol consumption for any number of reasons.

  • It may be because they don’t think it’s an issue since they’re not drinking all that much.
  • It may be because they just don’t want to open about it with a personal trainer, thinking they’ll get a lecture.
  • Or perhaps, they’ve convinced themselves they can have a couple drinks and still reach their goals with no problem since they only consume a low-calorie or “low sugar” alcohol drink.

I’ve written this article primarily for those in the third category as there’s a lot of misconceptions about the connection of calories and sugar with alcohol and how it relates to weight loss.

Is there an alcohol that is a good choice for weight loss?


That’s like asking if there’s a candy bar that’s a good choice for building muscle?

Should be obvious, but the answer is simply no. Just so we’re on the same page, this isn’t a discussion about what’s going to best help you lose weight, but rather what’s going to have the least amount of negative effects.

 Let's start with the basics: Alcohol 101

Alcoholic beverages are divided into three categories: beer, wine, and spirits (otherwise known as liquor). Beer and wine are made by fermentations of plant material that contain sugar (starches).

Spirits or liquor drinks (vodka, gin, scotch, whiskey, etc.) on the other hand are made by fermentation followed by a process called distillation, which is boiling the mixture then using condensation. 

A regular beer is normally around 4-6 percent alcohol by volume, wine 9-16 percent, and spirits typically around 30-50 percent. This can vary a good bit, but you get the general idea. Just so you know if a liquor drink is 40 percent alcohol by volume it would be classified as 80 “proof.”

All the fuss about sugar when….

When fruits or grains are fermented to make wine, beer, or liquor, the majority of the sugars are converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. The remaining sugars are referred to as “residual sugars.”

A 5 ounce glass of red or white wine for example will typically contain only 1-3 grams of carbohydrates. The same thing is true for light-beers.

Just so you know, low-carb beers promoted today are simply the old light beers with a new ad campaign. The old school Miller Light has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs. The “low-carb” Michelob Ultra has 95 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs. Big whoopee. The difference in carb and calorie content between these “light beers” is so small it’s not even worth mentioning.


How alcohol is used and processed by your body

A little nutritional science here. Did you know the human body can use the following substrates for energy; carbohydrates, protein, fat, AND alcohol? Yes, you read that correctly. Alcohol is actually classified as a macronutrient.

Not that you need alcohol as an essential macronutrient, but you can use it for energy production. This is a primary reason why in the old days’ laborers would often drink beer during the workday as it was a stable and relatively inexpensive form of fuel.

Notice that alcohol is not lumped together with carbohydrates. It’s because the way alcohol is broken down for energy use is different than carbohydrates. The energy density between the two is different as well. From an energy density 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 preferentially because it sees it as a toxin and wants to remove it.

Alcohol gets converted by your liver into a substance called acetate which is used preferentially for fuel before carbohydrates or fat.

The whole “carb content” and sugar considerations with alcohol are kind of overblown once you realize the majority of sugar gets converted during the fermentation process.

However, let me remind you of the high sugar content with a lot of mixers. Fruit juices and sodas are notoriously high in sugar content, so when you’re mixing alcohol with simple sugars you’ve got a recipe for disaster with fat loss. There goes the cranberry and vodka or 7 and 7. Sorry.

The most important thing to remember is when you have alcohol in your system your body will not and cannot utilize fatty acids for fuel.

It’s not that alcohol in and of itself is necessarily a terrible thing and that you’ll never be able to lose weight if you consume it. You just need to know the truth that when you ARE drinking you won’t be burning fat. It’s physiologically impossible with how your body works.


Why alcohol consumption may be crushing your body transformation goals

Make no mistakes about it, drinking alcohol on a regular basis just wrecks your metabolism and promotes big time inflammation. If you’re struggling with a high degree of inflammation due to insulin resistance, chronic stress, gastrointestinal issues like leaky gut, etc., then alcohol consumption is simply pouring gas on a fire.

You must be real with yourself on whether it’s going to be something you can do in moderation or if you need to get it out while you heal and restore your body. 

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%!

Remember losing weight is all about getting your body to burn fat for fuel. Without question one of the most effective ways on the planet to accomplish this is to work muscle (aka “lift weights”) and consume a clean diet.

What you eat or drink will for the most part either feed muscle cells for energy production and/or recovery or not. Your muscles will only receive nutrients from food or drink that has nutritional value. Alcohol is essentially empty calories void of any nutritional value for your muscles.

Let that sink in if you’re still on the fence.

It’s also important to understand that alcohol acts as potent appetite stimulant. You’re much more likely to consume excess calories from food when you drink alcohol. Not like you don’t already know this, but you’ll tend to find yourself having appetizers or consuming larger portions at your meal if you’ve been drinking.

This is why the reality is that a “beer belly” is not just from the beer but from of all the excess energy that was consumed from foods that didn’t get used since alcohol was being broken down by the liver and prioritized for energy production.


It's also the reason why a lot of fast-food drive through’s stay open past midnight. Especially if they’re anywhere near the bars and night clubs. Yeah, if you went to college you know what’s up.

So what alcohol drink is the best choice for fat loss?

Ok, having that all that, if I had to pick a category of alcoholic beverages that would be better to choose, I’d go with something that is BOTH on the lower side of alcohol content by volume and lower in residual sugars. Think along the lines of a glass of wine (red or white), a Prosecco, or a light beer.

There’s some intriguing research on the benefits of resveratrol, which is a compound found exclusively in red wine, so that may tilt the scales in its favor as the top pick.

I’m not buying some of studies that attempt to correlate drinking red wine with improving weight loss as resveratrol isn’t going to wash out the other issues we’ve already discussed. There is a possible argument to be made that it would be the most heart healthy choice of alcohol beverages, but let’s not get sideways.

I’ve seen far more people start losing weight when they quit the “two glasses of red wine per night” habit than I’ve seen start losing weight when they began drinking. The latter number would be zero in my experience. Call it anecdotal evidence if you choose but whatever. Try it for yourself if you want.

For those of you who aren’t big on wine or beer and prefer a liquor drink, it is what it is. I’m not sure what to tell you. The alcohol content (ethanol) by volume is simply too high to make the cut for being a better choice. Because of the higher ethanol content by volume, it’s going to promote more inflammation than say a glass of wine or light beer and take longer to break down and get out of your system.

Now is a glass of vodka and tonic water better than a rum and Coke? Of course, but let’s not get it twisted, you won’t be getting a flat stomach anytime soon with either option if they’re on the regular.

Here’s a good video from Dr. Berg on alcohol and how it affects weight loss. I'm not advocating for a ketogenic diet for everyone as he does talk about ketosis, but regardless it's a worth a quick watch. It’s only like 4 minutes.

 Bottom line

I don’t want to turn this into a debate regarding the health benefits and health detriments with alcohol consumption. I can see how a glass of wine could be good for overall health and even help with some ailments.

Heck, even in the scripture we can find the apostle Paul writing in a letter to his protégé Timothy that he should drink a little wine to help with his health ailment instead of consuming only water all the time.

Invariably the choice to drink alcohol or not is a personal matter as it should be. The purpose of this post was to shine a spotlight on calories and carb content with alcoholic beverages and the whole issue with weight loss.

A lot of hype goes into these variables, and I get it, there’s a lot of money to be made with the marketing, but the reality is a lot of people are being deceived on this subject when the focus is on CALORIES.

Let me give you a simple example so you can see for yourself.

The caloric conundrum with fat loss

Say individual #1 is regularly tracking their diet in order to make sure they’re in a caloric restriction. Aka they are "dieting."

They track their alcohol consumption as well and make sure to record the 120 calories for each glass of red wine they had in the evenings.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say they regularly consume 300-500 calories under their total energy expenditure for the day and this INCLUDES the two glasses of wine each night.

This person should be losing weight, correct?

Well, remember a calorie is not a calorie is a calorie AND we have the whole issue of alcohol (ethanol) entering into the equation and prioritizing the use of acetate over fats for energy production around meals.

Losing fat is not a mathematical equation!

What we do (eat and drink) matters.  

Individual #2 follows a diet where calories regularly meet the total energy demands for the day and STILL find themselves losing body fat.

How could this be without a caloric restriction?  

Well because all this doesn’t happen in a vacuum or better stated it doesn’t happen in some laboratory.

Let’s say for example this individual consumed a majority of their calories from protein sources (which is terribly energy inefficient BTW) and worked their muscles vigorously doing weight training which created a post workout energy demand (EPOC).

They still consumed some carbs and fats as well, but it wasn’t as much as individual #1 AND they weren’t drinking alcohol.

They’re going to likely lose fat because they established the right conditions (hormonally and metabolically) in their body for it to happen. 

It wasn’t doing a caloric equation correctly. Read that again.

Can you see the deception here by focusing solely on calories?

The whole calorie obsession is maddening to me. Not that there isn’t a time and place to track calories for gathering information, but the solution for weight loss isn’t myopic in nature.

In the example I provided you, individual #1 was getting in a caloric restriction, staying under with their calories, probably diligently counting carbs, eating Lean Cuisines, feeling cranky and tired at the end of the day. The treadmill sweat fest they did for 45 minutes instead of weight training burned a bunch of sugar so now they’re craving food and drink with sugar to replenish it. Yeah, a couple of glasses of wine with dinner should do the trick!


How about just run your head into the wall. It’ll be less frustrating.

The second individual ate real food, you know things that provide real satiation, didn’t attempt to starve themselves, lifted some weights, got out of breath a little bit, didn’t run on the “sugar wheel” and therefore had energy, managed inflammation, felt better, slept better, and low and behold started dropping some body fat.

Which one sounds like something you’d prefer?

Big boys and big girls make grown up decisions. You’ll have to choose for yourself based on priorities and significance of your wants. 

As a coach, If I’m to truly serve another in a way that looks at all the variables and makes a recommendation based on “best interests,” this should be done without bias. I sincerely believe that…which is why I think the best recommendation is not the one a person necessarily wants to hear, but the one we believe is genuinely best for their well-being.

If you’re in good health and have the body composition you desire AND you like to enjoy some alcohol beverages in moderation, who should look to convince you otherwise?

But it you don’t like where you’re at in those areas, it may behoove you to take a sober look (no pun intended) at your alcohol consumption and consider making some changes. It could have a significant impact.

As always if I can be of assistance on this subject, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to help in any way I can and will look to humbly do so without judgment. Until next time – be blessed.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He has over 24 years' experience with fitness coaching and consulting and specializes in training programs for middle age and mature adults. If you live in the Charleston, SC area you can schedule a no-obligations consultation.


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