The Long and the Short of Having a Stiff One

The general rule of thumb while in prep for a bodybuilding competition is that booze is bad and you should consume none.  Over the course of the last few years I have heard a lot of people (mostly non-bodybuilders) explain that vodka is better for you then wine, that wine is better than beer and why just one or two drinks will not affect your weight loss or your health.  So I did my research and here’s what I found.

The Short

If you’re interested in tracking macros, calories etc the top portion is probably all you need.  The reality is that for every gram of alcohol you consume is works out to 7 calories and no nutritional value in mineral or nutrients to your body whatsoever, it also makes your body work overtime in order to metabolize it.

General Rules for Caloric Breakdown of Foods

You’re body gets calories from the food you eat, in order for our bodies to function we need carbohydrates, protein, fat and water.  Along with essential vitamins and minerals.  Without these things our bodies do not function as they should.   Vitamin, mineral and water content add nutritional value to food but do not provide any calories.  The key is to spend the calories on foods that provide a variety of vitamins and minerals without a lot of calories and that provide the most energy in return.

1 gram Calories
Carbohydrates 4
Protein 4
Fat 9
Alcohol 7

 

Alcohol Breakdown

Alcoholic drink Calories
Beer, lite, 12 oz. 100
Beer, regular, 12 oz. 150
Frozen daiquiri, 4 oz. 216
Gin, 1.5 oz. 110
Mai tai, 4 oz. 310
Margarita, 4 oz. 270
Rum, 1.5 oz. 96
Vodka, 1.5 oz. 96
Whiskey, 1.5 oz. 105
Wine spritzer, 4 oz. 49
Wine, dessert, sweet, 4 oz. 180

 

In summary, having a drink depending on your goals, is acceptable.  If your goal is to get on stage and you are stressing it to the max, why load up on empty calories that make losing weight more difficult and give you none of the added benefits of energy, strength, recovery.  Contest prep no-no.  Occasionally during weight loss, meh.  Boozing it up on a daily basis?  Read on….

The Long (er)

Most of us like to have a cocktail or two from time to time and there is really nothing wrong with that, this post is not about binge drinking or issues with alcoholism, alcohol can be classified as a drug and the reality is it’s the most widely used drug in the world.  According to the national institute of Alcohol abuse and Alcoholism, in the US 17.6 million (1 in 12) adults are alcohol dependent.  If you are in this boat I would advise you to seek intervention.

The majority of the rest of us drink socially and / or moderately, yes it effects how we act almost immediately but it also effects your body in a myriad of ways that you are not aware of.  (Or at least I wasn’t until I started researching).  I prefer to make informed decisions and I will continue to have the occasionally bevie.

Alcohol provides a lot of calories with no nutritional value, and it also interferes with how your body processes and stores nutrients so that healthy foods that you do eat aren’t actually doing their job.

Once you have a drink, your body begins trying to metabolize it immediately.  So, it stops metabolizing anything else you have consumed in order to make the booze the priority.  The reason for this is that unlike the good stuff (protein, carbohydrates and fat) there is nowhere for it to be stored so it must be processed.  Once that drink enters your stomach, up to 20% of it can be absorbed there and go directly into your blood stream.  Within minutes it reaches your brain and gives the feeling of being a stimulant (buzzed).  The remaining alcohol content goes into your intestines and is absorbed there with the rest of the nutrients and very small amount gets pumped out through sweat, saliva, urine and your breath (why breathalysers work).

The sugar in our blood is called glucose and is used for growth and energy (hmm… bodybuilding buzzwords if ever I saw them).  Blood glucose comes from the foods that we eat and the breakdown of the glucose stored in our muscles (glycogen).  The primary hormones involved in maintaining a healthy blood glucose level are insulin and glucagon.   Generally when your blood sugar drops your body will respond by making more or burning stored sugar.  When you’re blood sugar rises it secrets insulin to keep it within a healthy range.  Drinking can deplete your glycogen stores in a matter of hours.  Long term studies of heavy drinkers showed that 50 – 65 % of people with alcoholic liver disease had either glucose intolerance or suffered from diabetes.

The reality of all of this means, that drinking in moderation and socially is acceptable depending on your goals, however the explanation of how it actually effects your body in “growth” (muscle gains) and in energy (Strength) cannot be ignored overall.  I for one still love my red wine and will continue to have it occasionally.  However depending on your goals and your health you may not want to imbibe. I completely believe in moderation on an everyday level and while many fitness buffs may preach that “food is fuel” mentality I live my life to enjoy it and one of the things I enjoy is good food, good wine and great company.  I also believe in understanding how things work and why my body does what it does.    Cheers!

 

References:
American Counsel for Drug Education
Sizer, F., and E. Whitney. Nutrition Concepts and Controversies. Toronto, Canada: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003.
FDA News Release. Nov. 17, 2010.
American Diabetes Association
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