Alcohol and It's Impact on the Body

It’s beach season! For some people that means bikini’s, white sand, and those fruity drinks with the umbrellas! But what if you have fat loss goals? Can you still drink? How does it impact your body and what are the “best” ways we can fit drinking into our macros?! We’re not here to tell you what to do, we just want you to understand the physiology of what happens when you drink and let you make the best decision for you! 

You pop the wine cork, take out your favorite wine cup and pour a hearty glass. You sit down and take your first sip and instantly feel your body decompress. Once alcohol is in your stomach it is absorbed directly into your blood stream through the lining of your stomach. Once alcohol is in your blood stream, it is transported to all organs of your body. In most this can take about 90 seconds, but takes about 15-45 minutes to feel the effects depending on your individual body and the speed of absorption. 

The effects of alcohol depends on a few things. It can vary depending on:

  • gender (females have less of an enzyme that helps breakdown alcohol… go figure?!) 

  • body composition (alcohol cannot be absorbed in bone or fat, so the more muscle you have the higher concentration of alcohol in those areas)

  • the amount of alcohol consumed 

  • the amount of food in your stomach- food can help block alcohol from coming in contact with the stomach lining. This explains why we become a cheap date when we don’t eat prior to drinking. 

The chemical name for alcohol is ethanol, and the body must absorb it in separate steps. Ethanol is a toxin and has priority to be eliminated from the body. So when we drink, our body will stop metabolizing other macronutrients, since this toxin is priority. This is supposed to happen quickly, so the delay of nutrient absorption can often be overlooked. However, when we drink in excess, aren’t well hydrated, or have certain genetic dispositions that slow down the metabolic process of alcohol, we can end up putting everything we were trying to eat on the backburner, and it can often turn to fat. There is genetic testing to see how you metabolize alcohol, but there are a few signs that you may not absorb alcohol properly:

  • Facial redness

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting (after minimal drinks-not as a result of drinking TOO much)

  • Worsening of asthma or sinus issues 

  • Hives

  • Diarrhea

  • Headaches WHILE drinking (given you have had enough water) 

  • Hangovers after one or two drinks 

Alcohol for performance and recovery 

We all know the obvious effects on performance if you stay up late, drink lots of booze and don’t hydrate properly. The last thing we want to do after that is go hit the gym for a hard workout. But what else happens?

While alcohol may make you sleepy, it is not a restorative, restful sleep. Too much alcohol can cause less sleep and poor sleep quality. Say you can make it to the gym and decide you want to sweat it out. Research shows that alcohol can not only suppress the inflammatory response (which we want to rebuild muscle) but even with adequate protein intake alcohol has shown to slow optimal muscle protein synthesis. This means with alcohol in our system, we are not getting our maximal potential for the hard work we are doing in the gym!

What does this mean for you? 

There are a few ways we can approach this. I always recommend to limit alcohol intake for my clients when they are cutting or competing for a few reasons. We saw the effects alcohol can have on performance and recovery as well as sleep. Not ideal especially when we creep closer to competition time. Same goes for cutting weight. When we are in a caloric deficit its best to “get in and get out” as soon as possible. Dieting is a stressor on the body so its best to make it short and sweet. If we are drinking frequently during a cut, we are more likely to see an increase calorie intake due to the drinks themselves, the food you eat while drinking (no one ever wants a salad when we drink), and the food you eat the following day to “soak-up” your hangover. 

What to do if you want to drink! 

No one is telling you not to drink! We just want to make sure you are aware of the consequences and find the best way to fit it into your lifestyle. There are a few ways you can follow ‘protocol’ to ensure there are a few less consequences from having a good time: 

  • Drink lots of water! Have 20-40 ounces more than usual, aiming for 120-140 ounces 

  • Try an electrolyte drink! Pedialyte is always a go to, but I love Robb Wolfs new electrolyte packets (https://www.drinklmnt.com) They are good whether you are drinking or not. Bone broth is another option for the morning after!

  • Make sure you eat a meal with protein, carbs and fats before you drink. The food will allow your body to soak up some of the alcohol and make you less likely to impulsively eat the bar food 

  • Try alcohol with less sugar. Most often the mix of alcohol and sugar can cause a worse hangover than needed. Try something like a potato vodka with seltzer or tequilla on the rocks. If you are going hard with the wine, try picking something organic and without sulfites.

Here at Black Iron, we want you to find a nutrition plan that fits your lifestyle. If you want to drink, you need to find ways to make it work and not push you farther away from your goals! 

Author: Jessica Amaral, Black Iron Nutrition Coach, @jessica_c_amaral