Is alcohol preventing you getting leaner?

Is alcohol preventing you getting leaner?
Working within a health club in London's financial district, it has really opened my eyes to the social traditions of the modern executive lifestyle. Client lunches, company meetings and business socials are often focused around two things; food and alcohol.
Even with the long hours and pressures in the financial industry, more and more people are starting to make time for their health and fitness. I'm not implying that we have finally found the work/life balance; I think we still have a long way to come with this, but a quick 30 minute run or 45 minute class is now being squeezed into the day. Plus in the last two years in Canary Wharf health conscious lunch places are popping up all over the place, allowing us to have healthy fresh food options.
With the gym on your doorstep and salad bar your neighbour, there is now no excuse for not aiming for that healthy body.
However what I have been noticing from the clients who come through our door, is that they don't appear to include alcohol under the 'fitness' umbrella, and unfortunately for many this could be what is holding you back from dropping that dress size, getting into the single figures of body fat % or increasing that 1kg more in muscle mass.
We all know how alcohol can impact our health by putting us at risk of diabetes, liver disease, cancers and mental health problems. Which is why the government recommends <21 units a week for males and <14 units a week for females. However we need to start understanding that even drinking within the recommended units, it can still have a detrimental impact on our fitness, particularly our body fat and muscle mass.
Alcohol and fat storage
The main reason we know alcohol can affect weight and body fat is due to the calories and sugar in the drinks. The calories alcohol contains are known as 'empty calories', this is because of the lack of nutritional value it provides. Pure alcohol contains 7 kcal per gram, whereas fat contains only 2 kcal more (9 kcal), but is nutritionally beneficial to your body.
Alcohol is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fat or protein. Carbohydrates and fat are usually included within your alcoholic drink (beer, cider, wine & cocktails). The reason our body will use alcohol first is because we cannot store it. When we metabolise alcohol it produces a by-product called 'acetaldehyde' which is toxic to our body, because of this our body has to concentrate solely on metabolising the alcohol to prevent poisoning us. On top of dealing with the toxins, our body also needs to deal with the alcoholic energy i.e. glucose, which also can become toxic to our body in high concentrations. However if our glycogen stores are already full from food we have eaten or the high carbohydrate content of the alcoholic drink, then the glycogen will be stored as a new fat.
An example of this would be if you went out for a friend's birthday meal at the local Italian and consumed a high amount of pizza, our body would supress that fat and metabolize (use) the glucose. However if during the meal you also had the addition of some alcoholic beverages, then our body would have to metabolize the alcohol first and store the glucose rather than use (as a fat!).
Alcohol and muscle gain
Alcohol can also affect our hormone balance, particularly testosterone. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, meaning it helps the body burn fat and increase muscle mass. Alcohol can lower your levels of testosterone.
Alcohol and your metabolism
Alcohol has a damaging effect on your stomach, liver and kidneys. When there is an unhappy balance in these organs then it will have a secondary effect by slowing down your digestion and it will lower your metabolism.

So ask yourself, have you considered the true impact alcohol has on your physique goals? If not, perhaps it's that last missing piece in your regime...

About the Author
Ellie Steele
Author: Ellie Steele

Ellie is based at our Canary Wharf medical centre and is a Senior Healthcare Advisor for Wellness International Ltd. Ellie has a BSc in Sport Therapy, is a qualified fitness professional and has consulted for the BBC on David Beckham's torn Achilles tendon.

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